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As we all look to turn the page from 2020, we take a look at why the 2021 season will be a special one for the Atlanta Braves and their fans.
There is always hope and optimism with a new year just like a new baseball season. But there are plenty of reasons to believe this will be the year for the Atlanta Braves.
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It’s been over 25 years since the Braves last won a World Series — there only one in Atlanta — and that’s despite reaching the postseason in 16 of those 25 seasons.
There have certainly been some opportunities for this team to take home the crown again, but I’d argue that they’re now setup more than ever to win the World Series.
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Those teams in the early 2000s were just hanging on to the magic and weren’t really a threat to win a World Series.
Some of those 2010-2013 teams I thought were good enough to make a run, but they didn’t seem like World Series favorites to me.
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It’s very different with this current Braves’ team, especially after coming within one game of reaching the 2020 World Series — where I think they would have beaten the Rays just as easily as the Dodgers did.
7. Ozzie Albies’ K/9 and BB/9
A right wrist bone bruise limited Albies to just 29 games last season, but when he was on the field — whether he was pressing to make up for lost time or not — the second baseman struggled. His strikeout rate climbed from 16 percent to ‘19 to 24.2 percent and his walk rate dropped to a career-low four percent. He was simply swinging more and missing more, with the swing rate at his highest yet (58.2 percent), while producing more swinging strikes (13.3 percent). It all resulted in a paltry 13.8 line drive rate for a player that has averaged 22.1 in his career and was at 25.5 in 2019’s Silver Slugger campaign.
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8. Luke Jackson’s xFIP
He shed the punching bag label in 2019 when he was a 1.3 fWAR player and was fanning 13.13 per nine, but Jackson regressed in ‘20, and was again the fodder of Braves Twitter. The man once dubbed Your Friendly Neighborhood Slider Man saw that pitch go from a dominant 12.0 WSL in ‘19 to minus-4.6 and his ERA ballooned from 3.84 to 6.84. But most alarming was an awful 4.70 xFIP, a jump of 2.00 year over year as Jackson had a 38.1 hard-hit ball rate, his worst in a Braves uniform. With little movement so far in adding to a bullpen that’s without Darren O’Day, Shane Greene and Mark Melancon and the Braves tending him a $1.9 million deal, it appears he’s going be counted on to get back to his ‘19 ways.
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There is no question there is still some work to be done on the offensive side, but the core is still there for this team to be very special.
Freddie Freeman is coming off an MVP season and finally looks healthy. Before the 2020 season, he said he’d pretty much been dealing with elbow discomfort for nine years. I don’t see him slowing down any time soon.
Ronald Acuna Jr. might quickly become the best player in all of baseball, and 2021 seems like a great time to make that claim.
On a side note, I find it kind of irritating that Fernando Tatis Jr. is getting so much hype when Acuna is better and just as exciting. And I love Tatis, but I wish Acuna would get the same amount love he’s getting.
Ozzie Albies was never right during that short 2020 season. Hopefully he’s had an offseason to heal and will be back to his All-Star caliber self in 2021.
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Dansby Swanson has proven he can play Gold Glove-caliber defense and be a threat at the plate.
That’s really what I consider to be our core four position players. And again, it would be a shock if Alex Anthopoulos doesn’t add a big middle-of-the-order bat to join them making this lineup extremely deep.
On the pitching side, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike Soroka and Max Fried are competing for NL Cy Young votes in the 2021 season.
As with all pitching, you just hope they can stay healthy for the entire season. I think that’s the hardest thing about winning a World Series is having your frontline starting pitchers healthy for the postseason.
Can you imagine how different things might have gone in the 2020 postseason with a healthy Mike Soroka?
And now they have a veteran in Charlie Morton to back them up, along with another young gun in Ian Anderson.
We all know how good the bullpen was in 2002. It will be had to duplicate that type of success, but they should still be one of the best in baseball.
NEXT: Is a Big Bat Needed?
This is what we’ve all been waiting for — an influx of young, controllable, cheap talent mixed in with some established veterans. This team has what it takes, after 2020 they know what it takes, and now they just have to get it done.