Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
The Official Site of the Atlanta Braves
news

Braves Team News

Braves preparing to defend NL East crown

@mlbbowman
March 25, 2019

ATLANTA -- Armed with three legitimate National League Most Valuable Player Award candidates and arguably baseball’s deepest crop of Major League-ready top pitching prospects, the Braves are determined to prove last year’s unexpected NL East crown was just the beginning of a long stretch of success. As the Nationals, Phillies

ATLANTA -- Armed with three legitimate National League Most Valuable Player Award candidates and arguably baseball’s deepest crop of Major League-ready top pitching prospects, the Braves are determined to prove last year’s unexpected NL East crown was just the beginning of a long stretch of success.

As the Nationals, Phillies and Mets each made a strong bid to gain a mythical offseason division crown, the Braves protected their future and attempted to enhance immediate value by adding Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann to their talented young core.

Still, even though Donaldson may have been the best available free agent not named Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, the comparatively quiet offseason places the defending division champs back in the underdog role they successfully handled last year.

WHAT’S THE GOAL?

While the past few months may have provided indication greater attention was being placed on the future, the Braves believe a significant portion of their eventual core is capable of providing immediate championship-level value. Injuries and Spring Training ailments have enhanced concerns about the rotation and bullpen. But as Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, Max Fried and top pitching prospects have impressed with their development, the team’s management has been given further reason to believe the great pitching depth will positively impact the bid to repeat as division champs. This is a club built for many years to come, but that doesn’t mean disappointment won’t be felt if the Braves don’t gain a second consecutive postseason berth.

WHAT’S THE PLAN?

Pitching wins championships. But as the Braves attempt to overcome some early season ailments and account for the growing pains prospects will experience at the big league level, they have to hope their offense and defense prove strong enough to overcome pitching concerns. With Donaldson, Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr., the Braves possess three MVP candidates who have the potential to be the NL’s most formidable offensive trio. A healthy Dansby Swanson and a more consistent Ozzie Albies would give the lineup some needed length. Swanson, Albies and three-time NL Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder Ender Inciarte serve as the heart of a defense that will also count Freeman and Acuna as above-average defenders. Looking back at the defensive metrics generated by the Phillies, Nationals and Braves last year will provide a strong reminder of the significant role defense played in last year’s NL East race.

WHAT COULD GO WRONG?

Mike Foltynewicz made just one Grapefruit League start before experiencing elbow discomfort and Kevin Gausman came to camp with a sore right shoulder. A.J. Minter’s left shoulder became a concern following a late February car accident, and time will tell whether Arodys Vizcaino’s right shoulder can handle a regular-season workload. As for top prospect Mike Soroka, he experienced yet another right shoulder ailment during the first week of camp. So even though each of these pitchers will be available within the season’s first couple weeks, it’s safe to say there’s further reason to be concerned about the pitching staff.

WHO COULD SURPRISE?

Though he might end up making his sixth consecutive Opening Day start, Julio Teheran understandably enters this season surrounded by doubt. The veteran right-hander bulked up during the offseason and hopes to avoid the declining velocity issues that became an even greater concern near the end of last season. His bid to potentially become a legitimate frontline starter faded a few years ago. But as he enters the last guaranteed season of his contract, the two-time All-Star has the potential to once again baffle with the creation of one last successful season in Atlanta.

The offensive surprise could come from Swanson, who is looking forward to the chance to rekindle the success he had before his left wrist became problematic less than three weeks into last season.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.