After winning back-to-back NL East division titles, the Atlanta Braves enter the 2020 season with a lot of momentum and high expectations. Of course, the pressure is building to do something special in October, especially since the Braves haven’t won a playoff series since 2001.
Knowing that this could be their chance to make a championship run, Atlanta made moves to improve for the short term. The Braves acquired veteran players who they hope will complement a core of youngsters who have stepped up over the last two seasons and proven that they can play winning baseball.
In fact, Brian Snitker’s team increased their win total from 90 games in 2018 to 97 a year ago. Another step forward could have the Braves on the verge of winning a championship.
However, do the sportsbooks share Atlanta’s optimism for the 2020 season? In one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, how do the Braves avoid a letdown? What do sportsbooks have to say about their regular-season win total and World Series odds? Let’s take a closer look at the 2020 Atlanta Braves.
Atlanta Braves 2019 Results
Oddly enough, the Braves started slowly in 2019. Atlanta was swept by the Phillies during the opening series of the season and finished the month of April below .500.
The Braves found their stride in June. They won 11 of their first 13 games, beating up on subpar teams like the Tigers, Pirates, and Marlins. Atlanta finished June 20-8 and entered July 15 games over .500.
Despite an up and down July, the Braves began August 19 games over .500 and as a serious playoff contender. It was in August that Atlanta solidified its standing at the top of the NL East.
The Braves finished the month with 11 wins in 13 games. That winning carried over into September, with Atlanta ultimately winning nine in a row.
On Sept. 20, the Braves clinched the NL East title for the second straight year with seven games left. They finished the regular season 97-65 with the second-best record in the National League and a four-game cushion over their closest NL East rival.
Unfortunately, the National League Divisional Series would be Atlanta’s downfall for the second straight season. The Braves lost Game 1 of the series to the St. Louis Cardinals, only to respond with back-to-back wins in Games 2 and 3.
Alas, the Braves couldn’t close out the series on the road, losing Game 4 in extra innings. The Braves remained confident heading into a decisive Game 5 at home.
However, Mike Foltynewicz had the worst start of his career, recording one out. He was charged with six of the 10 runs Atlanta conceded in the first inning of a game the Braves lost 13-1.
Atlanta Braves Key Additions
For a 97-win team, the Braves made several notable additions. The biggest was outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who came over from St. Louis, although he spent the first part of his career in the NL East with the Marlins.
After hitting 29 home runs and posting an OPS of .804, Ozuna is expected to be an important part of Atlanta’s lineup.
Atlanta added another former NL East stalwart by signing longtime Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud. He will step in as the catching partner for Travis Flowers, although d’Arnaud could be the primary catcher if he can continue his offensive resurgence.
On the pitching front, Atlanta’s biggest acquisition was starter Cole Hamels, who spent the early part of his career with another NL East foe, the Phillies.
Hamels spent last season with the Cubs, posting a 3.81 ERA over 27 starts. He’s not expected to be the ace he was several years ago, but Hamels can provide an important veteran presence in an Atlanta rotation that has several less experienced pitchers.
The Braves also made several notable additions to a bullpen that struggled for large stretches of the 2019 campaign. The biggest signing was left-hander Will Smith, who has been a key part of the San Francisco bullpen over the last few seasons.
Despite serving as a closer, Smith will revert back to his role as a setup man. In addition to adding Smith to their bullpen, the Braves also re-signed relievers Darren O’Day and Chris Martin. O’Day was held back by injuries last season but can be reliable when healthy. Meanwhile, Martin was a useful reliever after Atlanta traded for him last summer.
Atlanta Braves Big Losses
One reason why the Braves signed several key players over the winter is that they also lost several. It started with catcher Brian McCann, who retired after the 2019 season.
McCann was still a serviceable hitter and a great leader. His retirement prompted the Braves to sign d’Arnaud.
Without question, Atlanta’s biggest loss was third baseman Josh Donaldson, who signed with the Twins as a free agent. Donaldson hit 37 home runs and produced an OPS of .900, making him a vital part of the team’s offensive success. Failing to re-sign Donaldson is the biggest reason why the Braves signed Ozunal.
The Braves lost another key part of their lineup in July when outfielder Nick Markakis decided to opt-out of the season because of concerns related to the ongoing pandemic. Markakis has been a steady and underrated part of Atlanta’s lineup in recent years and was expected to be part of a platoon in right field.
On the pitching front, the Braves lost two key starters in Dallas Keuchel and Julio Teheran. While Keuchel started 19 games for Atlanta, he was an important part of their playoff push. Of course, the Braves signed Hamels to serve as a veteran lefty in their rotation, making him an ideal replacement for Keuchel.
Meanwhile, Teheran might be one of Atlanta’s most underrated losses this offseason. The club declined to pick up his option, believing that their younger pitchers are ready to take on a bigger role.
However, Teheran has been the team’s most durable and consistent starter for several years. He started 33 games for the Braves while pitching to a 3.81 ERA.
Finally, the Braves lost several veteran relievers who contributed. That list includes Josh Tomlin, Jerry Blevins, and Anthony Swarzak, who all made at least 44 appearances for Atlanta in 2019.
Atlanta Braves Pitching
Despite some shakeups, the Braves have high hopes for their rotation. It starts with Mike Soroka and Mike Foltynewicz, who are poised to lead at the top.
Soroka was amazing, registering a 2.68 ERA over 29 starts, making him Atlanta’s presumptive ace of the future. The Braves are also confident that Foltynewicz can bounce back from an up-and-down 2019 season and his disastrous postseason starts against the Cardinals.
Even if Foltynewicz can’t regain his form from a few years ago, the Braves are in good shape with a trio of lefties in Hamels, Max Fried, and Sean Newcomb. Even with a modest 4.02 ERA, Fried won 17 games last season, and the Braves believe he can be better.
As for Newcomb, he spent most of 2019 pitching out of the bullpen, doing so with great success. He’ll have a chance to claim a spot in Atlanta’s starting rotation.
Finally, Hamels has a track record that speaks for itself. His age and durability create some questions, but over a 60-game season, he should be able to stay healthy and give the Braves some quality starts. If not, youngsters like Kyle Right could be ready to step into the rotation.
The Braves are also confident their bullpen won’t be such liability, as was the case for much of 2019. Mark Melancon returns as the closer after coming over in a trade last summer.
As mentioned, Will Smith will be his primary setup man and a potential closer if Melancon falters. The two were teammates together with the Giants and should continue to be a formidable duo late in games.
The Atlanta bullpen also has a considerable amount of depth compared to last season. Shane Greene was outstanding as Detroit’s closer before being traded to the Braves during the summer.
Luke Jackson also spent a lot of time last year serving as Atlanta’s closer, giving him late-game experience. With O’Day and Martin also returning, the depth shouldn’t be an issue in 2020.
Atlanta Braves Offense
Even without Donaldson, the Braves still figure to be a solid offensive team in 2020. Everything still revolves around first baseman Freddie Freeman. While he missed time during summer camp after testing positive for COVID-19, Freeman appears ready to play close to a full season and continue to anchor the lineup.
Fortunately for the Braves, they have plenty of depth behind Freeman. Outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. is one of MLB’s rising stars.
In fact, Freeman, Acuna, and second baseman Ozzie Albies all won the Silver Slugger Award at their position, giving the Braves a dynamic trio in the middle of the order. The addition of Ozuna gives the Braves another power hitter and added depth.
Granted, there are some concerns about the rest of Atlanta’s lineup. Shortstop Dansby Swanson has yet to find year-to-year consistency, while center fielder Ender Inciarte has seen his offensive numbers dip over the last two seasons.
With Markakis out, Inciarte and outfielder Adam Duvall will have to take on bigger roles. There is also uncertainty about who will be Atlanta’s primary third baseman, as Johan Camargo, Austin Riley, and Yangervis Solarte are all candidates, but none are proven, everyday players.
Atlanta Braves Three Key Players
In the starting rotation, Fried is the biggest key for Atlanta. The Braves let a steady pitcher like Teheran leave primarily because they have faith in Fried and their other young pitchers. If he and Newcomb don’t step up and prove that they’re ready, Atlanta’s rotation could take a serious dip.
Swanson is another huge key. The former No. 1 overall pick has been a little up and down in his career. However, he’s coming off a solid season, and at age 26, he should be ready to take things to the next level.
His speed makes him a catalyst for the rest of the lineup, and given the questions about the depth of the lineup, the Braves need him to step up.
Finally, Acuna might be the biggest key. He had a breakout season in 2019, but that means opposing pitchers will be paying close attention to him.
As the league starts to adjust to him, especially pitchers within the division who saw a lot of him last year, can Acuna make adjustments himself and replicate his numbers from last year?
Atlanta Braves Schedule Breakdown
In a 60-game season, the Braves will play 40 games against their NL East rivals. Based on last year’s results, that should be a good formula for them.
However, it’s reasonable to expect that the Marlins, Mets, and Phillies will be better, so it may not be as easy for Atlanta to dominate against those teams.
The other 20 games on Atlanta’s schedule will be against teams from the AL East. With six games against the Red Sox, four against the Rays, and four against the Yankees, the Braves have one of the toughest interleague schedules of any team in the NL East.
They’re capable of handling it, but it doesn’t make things any easier in what should be a competitive division.
According to BetUS.com, the Braves have a money line of +1200 to win the 2020 World Series. Those are the fourth-best odds of any team in baseball, although they are considerably higher than the Dodgers, Astros, and Yankees.
BetUS.com also lists Atlanta’s over/under at 33.5 wins. That makes them the favorites in the NL East, although the Nationals have the same over/under with the Mets one game lower, suggesting a tight race atop the NL East.
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There should be no question that the Braves are capable of winning the World Series. They have so many important pieces in place, especially with a revamped bullpen.
However, life in the NL East won’t be easy, giving the Braves little margin for error just to reach the postseason.