This success has happened so quickly for the Braves, it's reasonable to ask: Is it real? Or maybe this is a better way to put it: Can it be sustained? To Atlanta fans, here's some advice: Don't sweat it.You suddenly have a team that is both competitive and wildly entertaining.
This success has happened so quickly for the Braves, it's reasonable to ask: Is it real? Or maybe this is a better way to put it: Can it be sustained? To Atlanta fans, here's some advice: Don't sweat it.
You suddenly have a team that is both competitive and wildly entertaining. In 20-year-old outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr., you have a potential superstar. On Thursday, in his second Major League game, he had a single, double and home run in a 7-4 victory over the Reds.
Acuna's home run was one of those jaw-dropping moonshots, which Statcast™ clocked at 105.8 mph off the bat with an estimated distance of 416 feet. One more time: He's 20 years old.
Braves fans have been buzzing about Acuna's arrival for more than a year, and sometimes, a kid shows up who is every bit as good as advertised.
Oh, and the Braves also have the second-youngest player in the Majors in 21-year-old second baseman Ozzie Albies. He arrived with some hype, too, and, like Acuna, he's off to a blazing start: eight home runs and 19 extra-base hits in his first full season.
In the long history of the Atlanta Braves, no player has had that many extra-base hits before the end of April.
It's one thing to be good, and at 14-10, the Braves, after averaging 93 losses over the past three seasons, are in a good place. It's another thing -- and also critical -- to be entertaining to watch, and Atlanta is must-watch television at the moment.
Raise your hand if you thought the Braves-Phillies series beginning Friday at Citizens Bank Park would feature two of the best, and most fascinating, teams in the early part of the season.
At this point, there's reason to think that these two teams -- along with the Nationals and Mets -- are capable of making the National League East the most competitive division race in the Majors.
Here are six reasons for Atlanta fans to believe in their team:
1. Ronald Acuna Jr.
Acuna's teammates will feed off his enthusiasm and positive energy. They know that his speed and power can ignite rallies, fuel comebacks and stop losing streaks. Players like this don't come along very often.
2. Lineup depth
The Braves were leading the NL in runs before Acuna made his debut Wednesday night. Along with Albies, shortstop Dansby Swanson, the No. 1 pick of the 2014 Draft, appears to have turned a corner. Preston Tucker and Ryan Flaherty have been nice surprises.
Freeman remains the face of the franchise and the rock in the middle of the lineup. If he stays healthy, he's good for 40 doubles and 30 home runs, and he will make the kids around him even better.
4. Starting pitching
If you want to doubt the Braves, this is where you start. If Julio Teheran and Brandon McCarthy stay healthy, they're a solid one-two punch at the front of the rotation. After that, it's up to the kids: Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb and Matt Wisler have been good enough. Veteran Anibal Sanchez was excellent before going on the disabled list. Here's the good news: The Minor League system is stacked with quality arms, and they're likely to be needed.
So far, there have been too many walks and too much uncertainty, but there's also potential, both in the pitchers on the roster and even more in the youngsters in the Minors. Rookie left-hander A.J. Minter and veteran righty Arodys Vizcaino could share closing duties, and manager Brian Snitker is still sorting out how to line up guys in front of them.
6. Alex Anthopoulos
Anthopoulos' hiring as general manager last year was one of the smartest moves any team made. He understands that roster building is as much an art as a science. Anthopoulos' under-the-radar acquistions of Flaherty and Tucker have already paid dividends. His signing of veteran Jose Bautista to play third base is a no-risk addition that could be a significant boost. Atlanta also has a deep farm system that allows Anthopoulos the flexibility to replenish the big league talent, or to make a midseason trade.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.