Atlanta Braves Season Preview 2020

Atlanta Braves Season Preview
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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this 2020 MLB season will be unlike any other. The shortened 60-game season will consist of new rule changes and safety protocols. The most notable rule changes are the adoption of the universal designated hitter and placement of a runner on second base to start every half-inning in extras. Also, rosters will expand to 30 players for the first two weeks of the season. Then, rosters decrease to 28 players for two weeks, and then to 26 players for the rest of the season.

Despite the uniqueness and challenges this season will entail, the Atlanta Braves will look to finally get over the postseason hump by winning their first World Series title since 1995. Last season ended prematurely for the Braves liking after being eliminated by the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, but they believe this was only the beginning of a long run of success.

Atlanta Braves Season Preview 2020

Offseason Review

Although the Braves lost third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Minnesota Twins, they filled his vacant spot in the lineup with the signing of outfielder Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna played with the Cardinals in 2019 and finished the season with a .243 average, 29 home runs, and 89 RBI. The .243 average was the worst of his career, but considering Ozuna’s .272 lifetime average, the Braves expect him to return to that production.

Marcell Ozuna was a thorn in the Braves side in the 2019 NLDS. He finished the series with a .429 average, two home runs, and five RBI. Atlanta signed Ozuna to one-year, $18 million contract this offseason. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The Braves lost Julio Teheran and Dallas Keuchel this offseason, but the signing of Cole Hamels adds a stable veteran starter to complement the young arms of Mike Soroka and Max Fried.

Atlanta shored up their bullpen by agreeing to terms with relievers Chris Martin, Will Smith, and Darren O’Day. In addition, they signed catcher Travis d’Arnaud and retained veteran outfielder Nick Markakis (who is opting out of the 2020 season), utility man Charlie Culberson, infielder Adeiny Hechavarría, and catcher Tyler Flowers.

Lineup

Donaldson might not be featured in the lineup anymore, but the Braves are relying on their young core to generate offensive production — especially the dynamic duo of Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies. And don’t forget about MVP candidate Freddie Freeman and newly signed Ozuna. Considering that Ozuna will bat cleanup behind Acuña, Albies, and Freeman, he should have an abundance of chances to hit with runners on base.

Atlanta has much-needed depth with Rafael Ortega, Culberson, Hechavarría, and Adam Duvall all available to provide a jolt off the bench, in spot-starts, or at the designated hitter position. The Braves also have a couple of prospects in their farm system that could make an impact on the lineup in 2020. Those two prospects would indeed be Drew Waters and Cristian Pache.

The lineup should look similar to this:

  1. Ronald Acuña Jr.
  2. Ozzie Albies
  3. Freddie Freeman
  4. Marcell Ozuna
  5. Johan Camargo/Austin Riley
  6. Travis d’Arnaud/Tyler Flowers
  7. Adam Duvall
  8. Dansby Swanson
  9. Ender Inciarte

Who Will Play Third?

After the departure of Donaldson to Minnesota, trade rumors connecting the Braves to superstar third basemen Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant began to swirl. But since those rumors have died down, it looks like Atlanta will settle for an in-house option at the hot corner. They did sign third baseman Yangervis Solarte, but it appears that Johan Camargo and Austin Riley will battle it out in Spring Training 2.0 for the right to be the starting third baseman.

Camargo played well as the starting third baseman in 2018 with 3.7 WAR. However, he struggled last season in a bench role with minus-0.7 WAR. Riley splashed onto the scene in 2019 by hitting .324 with nine home runs in his first 18 games as a rookie. But once opposing pitchers figured out his aggressive approach and struggle with offspeed pitches, it was a different story. Consequently, he hit .192 with nine home runs over his final 203 at-bats. There’s also a chance for a platoon here with the right-handed Riley and switch-hitting Camargo.

Rotation

Atlanta’s starting rotation has the potential to be the team’s greatest strength. After all, putting Hamels alongside Soroka, Fried, and Mike Foltynewicz makes the Atlanta staff one of the most reliable rotations on paper.

The rotation, when everyone is healthy, could look like this:

  1. Mike Soroka
  2. Cole Hamels
  3. Mike Foltynewicz
  4. Max Fried
  5. Sean Newcomb

The first four spots in the rotation appear to be locked. With the fifth spot up for grabs, the favorite coming into Spring Training 2.0 is Sean Newcomb. Newcomb has flirted with success in the Braves rotation in the past but hasn’t put it all together just yet. However, if Newcomb doesn’t impress, prospects like Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, and Touki Toussaint will all be considered.

Bullpen

Entering into the 2020 season the Braves boast one of the best bullpens in MLB, and a drastic upgrade over their bullpen at the start of 2019. While Atlanta tried to piece together their bullpen last season with relievers like Wes Parsons, Chad Sobotka, Shane Carle, and Jesse Biddle, it didn’t work out. Consequently, neither Parsons, Carle, or Biddle finished the year with Atlanta.

This season, the Braves’ bullpen consists of reliable, experienced relievers such as Smith, Shane Greene, Martin, Luke Jackson, O’Day, and Mark Melancon. Having pitchers with closing experience such as Smith, Greene, and Melancon should help trim down the blown saves total of 23 that Atlanta accumulated in 2019.

Three-Peat?

On paper, it looks like the Braves are the second-best team in the NL behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. They bring back most of their contributors from last season — with the exceptions of Donaldson, Keuchel, and Teheran — and improved some areas of weakness.

But even though Atlanta improved this offseason, so did the rest of the NL East — even the last-place Miami Marlins. With everyone in the division gunning for the Braves, it will take consistency in the abbreviated 2020 season if they hope to win the NL East for the third straight season.

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