If you like offseason action, you loved this past winter in the National League East. It was the Las Vegas of Major League Baseball, with teams wheeling and dealing and jockeying for tops in the division. The Atlanta Braves were not the most trigger-happy team on the East Coast—that award goes to both the Mets and the Phillies—but don’t discount what they have done. Atlanta and former American League MVP Josh Donaldson agreed that a one-year service contract at $23 million was enough, and the Braves also reunited with catcher Brian McCann for a one-year dance to the tune of $2 million.
With the addition of McCann and Donaldson, and the re-signing of right fielder Nick Markakis, the Braves now have arguably the best hitting lineup in all of baseball. Here’s a projected starting lineup for opening day:
- Ronald Acuna Jr.
- Ender Inciarte
- Freddie Freeman
- Josh Donaldson
- Nick Markakis
- Ozzie Albies
- Brian McCann
- Dansby Swanson
Heartier than a can of Chunky soup, the lineup includes a Rookie of the Year, a league MVP, a three-time All-Star, a seven-time All-Star, and three more All-Stars. It is perhaps the best batting order in franchise history, harkening back to the 1995 season with Fred McGriff, Chipper Jones, David Justice, Javy Lopez, and Ryan Klesko. Or the 1993 team with Justice, McGriff, Terry Pendleton, and Ron Gant.
Manager Brian Snitker has tinkered with Inciarte leading off, but Acuna Jr. expressed his interest in remaining at that slot in 2019. Any way you arrange it, expect opposing pitching to have a tough time working through that eight-deep gauntlet.
Braves fans hope that Donaldson will snap back into MVP form and hit 30 or more bombs and that the entire lineup will just absolutely rake during the 2019 season. If shortstop Dansby Swanson, who missed the 2018 playoffs with a wrist injury, can elevate his average, if Inciarte can return to his 2017 form, and if Acuna Jr. can avoid a sophomore slump, the Braves will be onto something special.
The big question mark, of course, is the starting pitching. Atlanta’s opening day rotation should include the arms of Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Kevin Gausman, Julio Teheran, and Touki Toussaint. Combined, those starting pitchers were 41-32 in 2018. Unfortunately, the Braves lost Anibal Sanchez, the hurler with the lowest ERA (2.85) of 2018, to the Nationals, and have yet to replace him with a starter of the same caliber. It’s curious why Atlanta has not yet gone out and gotten one more pitcher in the offseason, especially when players like Dallas Keuchel (12-11, 3.74 ERA) remain on the free agent market.
Foltynewicz is coming off of a season in which he was selected to his first All-Star game and posted a 2.85 ERA, but overall Atlanta’s starting rotation is nowhere near the strength of the Nationals, who boast the trio of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and now Patrick Corbin, who signed a six-year, $140 million deal this offseason, or even the Mets, with the duo of Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard throwing lightning bolts.
It has been whispered that free agent closer Craig Kimbrel and the Braves are in discussions, but that potential agreement died out at the rumor stage. Arodys Vizcaino remains the finisher until further notice.
Bats will be the Braves strong suit, and all of Atlanta is hoping that there’s enough pitching to stave off the Phillies, Mets, and Nationals for the franchise’s second straight division title. H&A
Cover photo: Dansby Swanson
All photos courtesy Atlanta Braves
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