At the beginning of the season, every team expects to win it all. If you don’t have that mentality then what is the point of playing the games. However, there are only a few teams that have realistic chances of making the playoffs or hoisting the World Series trophy. This Major League Baseball season, the Atlanta Braves came in as true “wild cards” in the National League (NL) East division. You didn’t know what type of team you would get. The other teams in the division are the Philadelphia Phillies, Miami Marlins, New York Mets, and Washington Nationals. For a couple of them, there were more definite answers.
The Nationals have owned the NL East for the last decade. Everyone on their roster returned from last year, including MVP Bryce Harper. They won 97 games last year and are expected to equal that total this season. The only way they don’t win the division is if they have an unexplained lack luster summer like they did in 2015. Or, they have several key injuries and lose the division to the Braves like they did in 2013. As the old man in ‘Coming to America’, said “Ah-ha!”
How could that be possible? The Braves were supposed to be in rebuilding mode. It is no way they could win the division, right? Last year, the new stadium was the big attraction. The move from Turner Field in downtown Atlanta to SunTrust Park kept fans interested. Even though the product on the field wasn’t the best, it was still the cheapest professional sporting event in the city to attend. They made SunTrust one of the best baseball parks not named Fenway, Wrigley, or Yankee Stadium. We all knew that this year, after the newness wore off, they had to play good baseball. They needed to be competing for, at minimum, a Wild Card spot in the postseason. Next year, the expectations would be to win the NL East and return back to prominence.
It is a fifth of the way into the season and the Braves are looking like they are a year ahead of schedule. They are currently 20-14 and sitting atop the NL East. They are closely followed by the Phillies, Mets, and Nationals though. All of the before mentioned teams are playing better than .500 baseball. That says a lot about your team when you are beating good teams, day in and day out. A few days ago, the Braves even swept the then first place Mets in New York. The reason the Braves are having this early success is because of their youth. The young guns feature 21-year-old Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. Then you add 20-year-old pitcher Mike Soroka to the starting rotation. That makes for the youngest group of players in the major leagues. They are calling up their young talent from the minor leagues, NOW. They are not waiting around until the All-Star break or waiting for injuries to happen. They are giving their young prospects the chance to prove themselves and contribute to the team immediately. I love this approach. There is no need to waste talent in the minor leagues when they can help you win games in the big leagues.
The Braves farm league or minor league teams have always been rich with talented players. They would only add one or two free agents in years past and rely heavy on calling players up. That was a good and bad thing, because they got cheap and never went out to spend money on some great batters. They only needed batters because of having one of the best staring rotations in all of baseball – Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery. If only they weren’t tight wads, they would have more than one World Series trophies in the 14 straight years they won the NL East. This season they didn’t go after any free agents. They are going with what they have. What they have is some of the best hitting in the NL. They are currently leading the NL in batting average, runs, hits, doubles, RBIs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. They are ranked third in home runs with 39. Those are astounding numbers from a team that was supposed to finish in second to last place in the division. The other key factor is their manager, Brian Snitker. He was the manager for the minor league affiliate, Gwinnett Braves. He is used to being around young talented players, trying to make a name for themselves. This makes him the perfect fit for this young group. He also has the advantage of having veterans such as Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis, and Jose Bautista to help guide the younger players.
If you are a Braves fans, I’m sure you are skeptical about the rest of the season. There are 162 games in the season, so it is far from over. However, this might be the hot start they needed to win the division. Remember too, they have a record of 14-7 for the other teams in the East, so that is something to hang your hat on. At this point, just sit back and enjoy the ride while you can. Chop on Braves.