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The Braves May be Ready to Challenge for NL Crown

In 2018, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves squared off in an October showdown. Both teams had almost identical records. The Dodgers won 92 games in the regular season, while Atlanta won 90. Despite the similar records, most experts forecasted a Dodgers series victory. Los Angeles made the World Series a year earlier and many felt that Atlanta was a year ahead of schedule. Unfortunately for Braves fans those predictions proved to be accurate. Los Angeles won the series 3-1, which silenced the Brave’s bats for most of the series. In all four games Atlanta scored eight runs total. On the other side, Los Angeles scored 20 runs in the series and overpowered the inexperienced Braves. Can the Braves challenge for the NL crown?

A year later, Atlanta players must feel much better about their chances as postseason ball creeps closer. Yes, the Dodgers have run away with the NL West and are closing in on 100 wins. However, the Braves are no slouches either with a current record of 90-56. Unless something shocking occurs, Atlanta will enter the playoffs as either the #1 or #2 seed in the National League. In 2018 Atlanta featured a lineup headlined by Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies. Now add former MVP Josh Donaldson to that mix. We also can’t forget about Atlanta’s arms either. Compared to last fall, the Braves will now have a former CY Young, Dallas Keuchel, on their roster. The Braves should be able to challenge the Dodgers in October.

The Bats

Freeman high fiving his teammate on rout to the Brave's challange the NL mountain
Image via: https://news.yahoo.com

Atlanta’s young lineup got a veteran addition in the offseason. They signed Josh Donaldson, who has rekindled some of his MVP form this season as a member of Atlanta. Donaldson currently has 37 home runs on the season, paired with 88 RBIs and an OPS over the .900 mark. Despite being in his 9th season and being 33-years-old, Donaldson is producing while playing almost everyday. With two and a half weeks left in September he has played in 142 games already. Though Donaldson may be more experienced, the younger Braves hitters continue to rake as well. The 21-year-old Acuña Jr. has launched 38 homers, while driving in 94 and swiping 34 bags. Atlanta’s shortstop Ozzie Albies isn’t quite as powerful. Albies smacked just 21 home runs this season. However, Albies owns a .288 batting average, 76 RBI’s and 15 stolen bags this year.

Even still, the top hitter in Atlanta’s lineup may still be the guy who has been there the longest. That would be first baseman, Freddie Freeman. If not for Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich, the MVP trophy may be going home with Freddie Freeman. In 145 games, Freeman has posted a .305 batting average and is currently tied with Ronald Acuña Jr. at 38 homers for the team lead. Men have gotten on base in front of Freeman and he has batted them in. His 117 RBIs are a career high, while also leading the MLB. Freeman’s OBP, OPS and Slugging percentage all rank within the top 15 in the game. This stellar offensive production from Freeman is also backed up by his impressive glove work at first base. With Freeman, Donaldson, Acuña and Albies clicking on all cylinders, can the Braves should be able to challenge the Dodgers’ rotation come October.

The Arms

Dallas Keuchel's pitching may help the Braves challenge for the NL
Image via: https://www.cbssports.com

Back in spring training, Atlanta’s rotation had question marks. Though, two new faces in particular have elevated the Brave’s staff. One of those men is 22-year-old rookie Mike Soroka. If I told you that Soroka currently owns the third lowest ERA in the National League, you may not believe me. In fact, Soroka’s 2.67 earned run average ranks third in the NL and fourth in baseball. He’s not a strikeout artist, but he is holding the opposition to a .237 batting average. His 1.11 WHIP also ranks top 20 overall.

Another pitcher who is coming on strong for Atlanta is Dallas Keuchel. After not agreeing to a free agent deal during the winter, Keuchel finally signed with the Braves on June 7th. The former American League Cy Young made his Braves debut on June 21st and he hasn’t looked back. While he may not be the “ace” that he used to be with Houston, Keuchel provides stability for a young Atlanta rotation. His numbers probably won’t blow you away, but in 15 starts he’s posted a respectable 7-5 record with a 3.47 ERA. Though, we cannot forget about Julio Teheran either. Teheran first joined the Braves all the way back in 2011. He owns a 10-8 record this season with a 3.31 ERA.

Conclusion

The Atlanta Braves have a compelling balance of lineup depth and promise in the rotation. Though they may still be youthful in some spots, they added talented veterans since their postseason departure last October. The Dodgers will still be the betting favorite to reign supreme in the National League, but this Atlanta team should not be overlooked. Atlanta should be able to give the Dodgers a run for their money, and we’ll all find out soon.

Who do you think will be the NL champions in 2019? Does Atlanta pose the biggest threat to LA, or is it someone else? Discuss that and more on our forums! For more quality content check out the rest of Overtime Heroics. Continue the conversation on Twitter and follow me here!

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