After acquiring a few All-Stars in the offseason, the Phillies seem poised to win the National League East in 2019. Since the other teams in the East have yet to concede to the Phillies’ greatness, it’s worth taking a look at each division rival and determine how much of a hindrance they’ll provide towards the Phillies’ playoff hopes.
2018 Record: 90-72, First place in National League East
The 2018 Braves weren’t a particularly great team. But one thing they were great at was bringing out the absolute worst in their division opponents. Against the Nationals, Mets, Marlins, and Phillies, they put up a combined 49-27 record. Which meant they were 41-45 against teams from every other division.
You may remember that when the Phillies faced the Braves, they couldn’t seem to even properly carry out simple tasks like bringing in a pitcher from the bullpen.
It isn’t clear why the Braves held such mastery over their division mates in 2018. But considering that three of the other teams made some attempt to improve this offseason, that dominance seems very unlikely to continue.
Did the Braves improve too?
Braves fans were clamoring for the team to go after Patrick Corbin to bolster the rotation or Michael Brantley to help their outfield. Instead, their two most prominent moves were signing old guys in Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann.
Donaldson is just one year removed from an 33 home run season, but spent much of 2018 on the injured list. At 33 years of age, his days as a top slugger are probably behind him. As for McCann, it’s not clear if he offers much beyond growling at opposing players when they don’t adhere to the unwritten rules of baseball.
But they didn’t need to improve...right?
The Braves’ success in 2018 was largely powered by the young talent in their lineup. Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna, Dansby Swanson, and Johan Camargo all had some degrees of success last year, with Acuna in particular looking like an emerging star. Combined with the presence of solid veterans like Freddie Freeman and Ender Inciarte, the Braves should be able to score some runs this season.
On the other hand, the development of young hitters isn’t always linear. It wouldn’t be a shock if at least a couple of the young Braves took a step back. If that happens, then the Braves will need to lean harder on the “past their prime” group of Donaldson, McCann, and Nick Markakis.
And if those guys can’t deliver, then the Braves might be in some real trouble because...
The pitching doesn’t look that great
Mike Foltynewicz had a strong season in 2018, but he’s likely to miss at least a month with an elbow injury. In his stead, Julio Teheran will get the Opening Day start against a Phillies team which now employs a guy who has had a bit of success against him.
⚾️DID YOU KNOW? Most home runs Bryce Harper has hit against any team is 25. The team? Atlanta. 8 of those have come off Julio Teheran, tomorrow’s starter. That’s Bryce’s most against any pitcher. (Miles Kennedy photo) #phillies pic.twitter.com/ceFjBjVbuI— Larry Shenk (@ShenkLarry) March 27, 2019
Mediocre veteran Kevin Gausman and second year man Mike Soroka are also hurt, so the Braves will be forced to start the season with two rookies in the rotation. Maybe Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright will be the second coming of Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. But keep in mind that even those guys had some rough moments at the start of their careers.
That means the Braves’ bullpen will probably have to pick up a lot of innings. However, Arodys Vizcaino is coming off an injury-marred season, and setup men Darren O’Day and A.J. Minter are both injured to start the season. That leaves a lot of question marks.
Why weren’t they more active in free agency?
There’s no obvious answer why the Braves weren’t in the middle of the bidding for Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, or any of the other top free agents. Perhaps now that they bilked taxpayers out of money for a new stadium, they don’t feel much obligation to try and put the best possible team on the field.
Should we feel bad for Braves fans?
Heavens no! Those tomahawk choppers deserve every little bit of misery their team dishes out to them.
Atlanta Braves, who are supposedly trying to cut back on tomahawk chop chants, opt to create instructional shirt instead: https://t.co/nlPhPzsX6B pic.twitter.com/thqfzMiKMc— Deadspin (@Deadspin) February 24, 2019
Why the Phillies should beat them
As mentioned, it seems unlikely that the Braves will repeat their divisional dominance, especially when they’re depending on so many young (and old) players.
Why the Phillies should be wary
If the Braves did it last year, they could do it again. Freddie Freeman has crushed Phillies pitching throughout his career, and Acuna seems like he could be a huge problem for years to come.
The Braves seem to fit in well in the third place spot in the division.