Why the NLCS-bound Braves will be a problem for years to come
Why the NLCS-linked Braves will be a problem in the years to come originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
When the Atlanta Braves desperately needed a starting mug in late August, they called 22-year-old right-handed Ian Anderson, the third overall winner on the 2016 draft. Anderson has been brilliant since that call, having an ERA of 1.95 with one in six regular season starts Whip of 1.08 and 41 strokes pitched in 32.1 innings. He was even better on his first two postseason starts, dominating with 17 spikes and three walks in 11.2 goalless innings.
When the Phillies desperately needed a starting pitcher in September, they turned to Vince Velasquez, who has proven to be a mediocre starter in five seasons in Philadelphia.
Velasquez wasn't terrible in September. He had a 4.74 ERA in four starts to end the season. But neither was he Ian Anderson. This underscores the gap between the two franchises (especially among young talent).
Just look at the Braves lineup. It starts with the 22-year-old Ronald Acuña Jr., who has scored 46 runs in 46 games this season and led the NL in the fewest bats per HR (11.4). He's the most dynamic power-speed combination in sport and what he's done at his age is historic. He is one of only 17 players in MLB history to complete more than 80 home runs before turning 23. Acuña is signed to one of the most team-friendly contracts in baseball through 2026 (8 years, $ 100 million).
Second baseman Ozzie Albies had a bad year this season, scoring .271 / .306 / .466 in just 29 games. But he's only 23 years old and has had a 2019 season when he led the NL with 189 goals, scored 100 runs and scored 24 home runs. Albies is under contract until 2025 thanks to a 7-year $ 35 million deal that he signed back in 2019.
The Braves have so far received excellent production for this relatively low cost. The Phillies tried a similar strategy with Scott Kingery (6 years old, $ 24 million), which has not yet paid off.
Albies' double play partner, 26-year-old Dansby Swanson, quietly had a breakout season at shortstop, hitting .274 / .345 / .464 with 10 home runs. The number 1 in the 2015 overall ranking is now in its prime and will not become a free agent until 2023.
The Braves also have two of MLBPipeline.com's top 25 prospects (# 10 Cristian Pache and # 22 Drew Waters) waiting in the wings to take on Ender Inciarte and Nick Markakis on the outfield. The prospects are not always good, of course, but the young talent is there.
On the pitching side, the Braves have a pair of potential aces in Anderson and left-wing 26 year old Max Fried who took a giant leap to become one of the best starters in the NL this season. They're hoping for a similar jump from 25-year-old Kyle Wright, the fifth overall winner on the 2017 draft, who struggled with an ERA of 6.22 early in his career. Atlanta also hopes to have Righty Mike Soroka, 23, back early next season. Soroka, the runner-up in last season's NL Rookie of the Year Award, tore his right Achilles tendon in August.
Brave President of Baseball Operations Alex Anthopolous did an excellent job building a seasoned bullpen to compliment his young rotation. The Braves bullpen had the second most innings in baseball, and his 3.50 ERA was the fourth best.
Rather than signing veterans for long-term contracts, Anthopolous chose to sign veterans for one-year, high dollar contracts. Josh Donaldson received $ 23 million from the Braves last season and rewarded them with 37 home runs. Anthopolous was more than happy to let the Donaldson twins pay freely, which resulted in a one-year $ 18 million deal for Marcell Ozuna. Once again the Braves had an incredible production with Ozuna leading the NL in Home Runs, Runs Batted In and Total Bases. As with Donaldson, you can expect Atlanta to give another team the honor of signing Ozuna on a long-term contract.
That brings us to Freddie Freeman, who will test the Braves' reluctance to give out massive, long-term contracts. Freeman is already the recipient of the richest contract in franchise history, an 8-year $ 135 million contract that ends after the next season. Freeman, who is likely NL MVP front runner this season, will be 32 when his contract expires. It will be fascinating to see if the Braves are ready to pay the $ 200 million it takes to keep Freeman in Atlanta for the rest of his career.
Regardless of Freeman's future on the team, the Braves will be a playoff game for a few years and have already won the last three championship titles. There are no guarantees in baseball, but the next Phillies general manager will inherit a landscape where the path to NL East win is through Atlanta.
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