Next up in the NL is the East Division champion Atlanta Braves. The Braves managed to take a tough division stacked with the Bryce Harper-less Washington Nationals, the pre season division favourite Philadelphia Phillies.
The Braves were kind of a surprise last year when they managed to take the NL East division title. A young team, with a rather unkown pitching staff, they took the league by storm and fought their way into a playoff spot. This year was a much different story. The team made some moves to further their potential of being a championship contender and had their names in the running right from the get go.
One man that carried over his incredible success as a rookie last year was 2019 NL MVP candidate Ronald Acuña Jr. Acuña has had an incredibly consistent year, shouldering the load on an offence with a few big weapons around him. His combination of speed and power has made him absolutely lethal for the Braves. He sits just three stolen bases shy of becoming the first 40/40 man since Alfonso Soriano did it in 2006.
Unlike the other teams I've wrote about so far, the pitching staff is where this team lacks a little bit. The names are there in Dallas Keuchel, Mike Foltynewicz, and Julio Teheran, but the results haven't quite been there. The big bright spot for this team however, has been Canadian rookie right hander Mike Soroka.
Soroka has easily been the most dominant rookie pitcher in the MLB this year. The 21 year old sports a 13-4 record, with a 2.60 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP and 135 strikeouts in just 169.2 innings. He's put himself not only in the running for the Rookie of the Year award, but into the NL Cy Young conversation as well. On a staff that has struggled to meet expectations for the year, Soroka has manage to blow expectations out of the water.
1. Ronald Acuña Jr., CF
2. Ozzie Albies, 2B
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
4. Josh Donaldson, 3B
5. Nick Markaikis, LF
6. Matt Joyce, RF
7. Brian McCann, C
8. Dansby Swanson, SS
Adeiny Hechavarria, Austin Rielly, Adam Duvall, Billy Hamilton, Tyler Flowers
1. Mike Soroka
2. Dallas Keuchel
3. Max Fried
4. Julio Teheran
5. Mike Foltynewicz
Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, Chris Martin, Sean Newcomb, Luke Jackson, Anthony Swarzak, Jerry Blevins
What do they have to do to win?
It's going to be a tough road for the Atlanta Braves. The NL is always a dog fight and this year is no exception. They will match up with either the St. Louis Cardinals or the Milwaukee Brewers depending on how the next couple days play out for both teams. Either way, they will be going up against one of the hottest teams in baseball of the last month. It's a tough matchup for a team with an inconsistent starting rotation.
On the flip side, if that rotation catches fire, they could be one of the most deadly in the postseason. Keuchel has been on a championship team and looked great doing it. Max Fried has shown flashes of absolute dominance in small stretches this season. And Mike Foltynewicz had a sub-3 ERA last year and finished eighth in Cy Young voting. If all of them can put it together at the same time, coupled with the deep offence they have, they could definitely make a run at the title.