With thirty-six games remaining in the 2018 season, the Atlanta Braves find themselves with a three-game lead in the NL East over the second place Philadelphia Phillies. Here are my three reasons the Braves will win the NL East and my three reasons they will not.
The three reasons the Atlanta Braves will win the NL East:
- Team chemistry – The youth movement in Atlanta has seemed to revitalize a clubhouse that once looked gloomy and took losses very hard. Take one look in the dugout now and you will see Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies laughing it up, whether the Braves are winning or losing; guys like Nick Markakis and Charlie Culberson, who are normally very mild mannered, being the first to jump over the railing for a walkoff; Freddie Freeman, who looks to be enjoying himself more this year than any other I have seen; and the perfect mix of rookies and veteran leadership is what can propel a team to championships.
- Moving Ronald Acuna Jr. to the leadoff spot – Since Ronald Acuna Jr. has been moved to the leadoff spot, he has batted .350 with 13 HR and 25 RBI in just 31 games. The Braves have lacked a true leadoff hitter for years, so the production of Acuna Jr. has been a boon not only to his stats but also in helping to set the bar for the middle of the lineup, with Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis having great years.
- Team defense – The Braves are currently 8th in all of Major League Baseball in team defense with a .987 fielding percentage while the Phillies find themselves second to last with a .979 fielding percentage. With games left to play against Philadelphia, defense may play a huge part in determining close games and may be a deciding factor in which team wins the division.
The three reasons the Braves will not win the NL East:
- Bullpen – The Atlanta Braves currently find themselves very near the bottom ten teams in MLB in bullpen ERA at 4.15. Throwing out guys like Sam Freeman, Luke Jackson, and Chad Sobotka every night is a huge weakness for this team. A.J. Minter has done a respectable job as the new closer for the Braves since Arodys Vizcaino went down with injury, but he has struggled at times as well. The Braves realized this was a weakness at the trade deadline and added Brad Brach and Jonny Venters to help. We will see if this can help stop some of the bleeding.
- No staff ace – Most teams that win championships have one thing in common: They have that one guy you can turn to every five days and expect a chance at winning the ballgame. The Braves don’t have that guy yet and failed to address that issue at the trade deadline. Julio Teheran has proven he can’t be that guy, and although Mike Foltynewicz has shown glimpses of being an ace, he has also had times where he looks completely lost.
- Streakiness – This comes with any young team. The Braves are just as susceptible to losing five games in a row as they are to winning five in a row. With important division games to come in September, the Braves cannot find themselves getting into a losing streak where every game can mean the difference between winning the division, getting knocked down to the Wild Card, or worse yet, going home all together.
Bob Lancaster @bowlinbob