The Atlanta Braves have won the 2019 National League East crown for the second straight year. Is this the beginning of something beautiful in the ATL?
With the entire crowd at SunTrust Park on their feet Friday night, Atlanta Braves RHP Josh Tomlin delivered his 0-1 offering to Giants OF Alex Dickerson. As soon the pitch was lofted softly into the night sky, the celebration began. Braves OF Ronald Acuna Jr came sprinting in, caught the final out, and continued running.
Why? Well, the Atlanta Braves had just clinched the 2019 NL East title, and Acuna sped into the infield to celebrate with his teammates. The 6-0 victory over the San Francisco Giants was symbolic in more ways than one, all the while hinting at the level of dominance the Braves may be on the verge of.
In order to understand how far the Braves have come, one must first understand where they’ve been. Prior to winning the division in 2018, the Braves hadn’t tasted the playoffs since 2013. That team, led by the likes of Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann, and Craig Kimbrel, had been ousted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Divisional Round, failing to advance despite its strong, and somewhat aging, core. In the subsequent season, the Braves’ stumbled to a 79-83 finish, prompting the front office to begin rebuilding for the future.
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In the five years since the initialization of Atlanta’s rebuild, a few key pieces remain. First baseman Freddie Freeman is still a hitting machine and a perennial MVP candidate. RHPs Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz remain in the rotation, with the latter throwing an absolute gem Friday evening, tossing eight shutout innings with 7 Ks. Even longtime Braves catcher Brian McCann is back, brought in to help mentor the relatively young roster. That youthful roster is the key to the Braves recent success – with the likes of Ronald Acuna Jr and Ozzie Albies in tow, how could it not be?
Ronald Acuna Jr, fresh off his 2018 NL Rookie of the Year win, has taken another step this season, and currently finds himself three SB short of the first 40 HR/40 SB season since 2006. Albies has progressed as well, continuing his rise as one of the top 2B in the game. Rookie RHP Mike Soroka has been electric this season and will be at the front of the 2019 ROY conversation, as well as earn some down-ballot NL Cy Young votes.
The riches don’t just stop there for the Braves. They currently have 3B Josh Donaldson and LHP Dallas Keuchel having excellent seasons on one-year deals, and there have already been rumblings about their potential re-signing. Others, such as Max Fried, Dansby Swanson, and Austin Riley have flashed their potential at times this season, and figure to be part of the team’s long-term plan.
Atlanta also owns the sixth-best farm system, according to Fangraphs, with prospects like RHP Kyle Wright (who got his first taste of the Majors this season) and OF Cristian Pache on the verge of joining the roster for the foreseeable future. Whether you look at the current roster, their leadership, or their future outlook, there’s little about the Atlanta Braves that suggests their reign in the NL East will be short-lived. In fact, they may be on the verge of a dominant run on the division.
On Friday night, both McCann and Acuna homered, with Freeman and Albies driving in the team’s other two runs. The win also eliminated the Giants from playoff contention in manager Bruce Bochy‘s last season, officially closing the book on perhaps the NL’s last dynastic run. Last night’s scorecard is a symbolic bridge of sorts, emphasizing the beginning of a new, powerful Atlanta Braves roster. The term “dynasty” is a bit premature, but when discussing one of the most talented, promising franchises in the game, it’s difficult to not feel tempted to use it.
Rebuilds can be difficult, and though 2015 through 2017 were bleak, they’ve led to something beautiful. The Atlanta Braves have won their second-consecutive NL East crown, and figure to win more in the coming years.
There are some things about the Braves that are difficult to question, such as the Ronald Acuna’s ability, Freddie Freeman’s consistency, or the talent within the farm system. The Braves have set themselves up not only for NL East supremacy but for a serious run at multiple World Series titles. The only question that remains is whether this team will dominate the NL East, the NL, or the entire league for years to come.