Atlanta Braves Thankful To Feast on Unique 2020 Season

Atlanta Braves

The 2020 MLB season has been difficult on everyone — players, owners, and fans alike. However, the Atlanta Braves have several things to be thankful for after finishing a win shy of a World Series berth.

Place Setting

In 2019, the Braves won the NL East division but fell short against the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series. That loss continued a 19-year streak of playoff futility. Atlanta—in all fair respects—was and still is, being compared to the Buffalo Bills’ four consecutive Super Bowl runner-ups in the 1990s. Kings of the regular season but postseason chokers.

The team filled the voids of superstar talents Josh Donaldson and the pitching prowess of Dallas Keuchel. President of Baseball of Operations and General Manager Alex Anthopoulos went to work, signing the arms of Cole Hamels and Will Smith and providing a much-needed bat in Marcell Ozuna (.338 batting average, 18 HRs, 56 RBI) and Travis d’Arnaud (.321 batting average, 9 HRs, 34 RBI).

The 2020 MLB season provided several new challenges and rules. The addition of the designated hitter to the National League, a three-batter minimum requirement for pitchers, expanded postseason, and adding a runner at second base in extra innings all gave a new look to the game.

Turkey

The real meat of the 2020 Braves club came in its starting pitching prowess, lineup depth, and bullpen depth. And just like the Thanksgiving turkey, the meal itself had fans feeling full, or stuffed, depending on their definition of success.

The Braves offense displayed a .268 batting average, a .349 on-base percentage, and a .483 slugging percentage. They led the league in hits (556), doubles (130), RBI (338), and were second in runs scored per game (5.80), runs scored (348), and home runs (103).

Going into the season, depth appeared a strength. However, a season-ending Achilles injury to Mike Soroka, a demotion of Mike Foltynewicz, and a mixture of rookie arms gave the team a glimpse into its potential future.

The strength in the bullpen was solidified with Will Smith (2-2, 4.50 ERA), Chris Martin (1-1, 1.00 ERA in 18 IP), Shane Greene (1-0, 2.60 ERA in 27.2 IP), and Mark Melancon (4-3, 2.79 ERA and 13 saves). The team also found some unsung heroes in Tyler Matzek (4-3, 2.79 ERA in 29 IP), A.J. Minter (1-1, 0.83 ERA in 21.2 IP), and Darren O’Day (4-0, 1.10 ERA in 16 IP).

Fixings

The solid presence of Max Fried (7-0, 2.25 ERA) and the emergence of rookies Ian Anderson (3-2, 1.95 ERA in six regular-season starts) and Kyle Wright (2-4, 5.21 ERA in eight starts) made tuning into Braves games must-watch television.

Switching Freddie Freeman to the second spot in the lineup proved dividends, as was the emergence of d’Arnaud in the cleanup slot and both Swanson (.274 batting average, 10 HR, and 35 RBI) and Austin Riley towards the bottom of the lineup. Add in the outfield depth of Adam Duvall (.301 batting average, 16 HR, 33 RBI), Nick MarkakisEnder Inciarte, and rookie Cristian Pache, and this afforded the Braves to give several hitters days off and mix and match their lineup when needed.

Dessert

Once the regular season was finished, the Braves recorded a 35-25 mark, good for its third consecutive NL East division crown. The team scored 348 runs while allowing 288, and let’s not forget about that 29-run game. The Braves set an NL record for most runs in a game with a 29-9 victory against the Miami Marlins on September 9.

Atlanta swept through the first two rounds of the playoffs, advancing past the divisional round and reaching the NLCS for the first time since 2001. They led the series 3-1 before bowing out to the eventual World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Yet, the team didn’t leave empty-handed when it came to season honors.

Atlanta hauled in several rewards, including the NL MVP (Freeman), four Silver Sluggers (Freeman, Ozuna, d’Arnaud, and Ronald Acuna Jr.), and a Gold Glove winner (Fried).

The face, and perhaps heart and soul of the Braves earned his first MVP honors. “MVFree” was a constant staple throughout the world of baseball in the 2020 season. He led MLB in runs (51), finished second in OPS (1.102), and second in the NL in average (.341), OBP (.462), and slugging (.640).

That Bloated Feeling

The Braves began their Christmas shopping when they inked Drew Smyly and Charlie Morton each to one-year deals with Smyly earning $11 million and Morton $15 million. The next target could be reigning Cy Young award winner Trevor Bauer or perhaps Tampa Bay Rays starter Blake Snell.

It remains to be seen if the Braves can convince Ozuna to stay with a big contract. One wonders who they’ll end up relying on to back up the reigning NL MVP. Additionally, the team will have to make choices regarding its farm system and how much to invest in the free-agent market.

Whatever happens will depend on whether the universal DH is here to stay, if the three-batter minimum will go away, and how the league can improvise on the ever-changing COVID-19 world.

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