Baseball is back! We think. Each day, SportsIntel’s Matt DeSaro will take a look at two of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball as we head toward MLB Opening Day in late July and we continue today in the NL East with the Atlanta Braves.

The owners and players agreed in late June to stage a 60-game season, beginning July 24. There are still many hurdles to overcome in this COVID-19 landscape, but for now, the teams are gathering for “Summer Camp,” a Spring Training reboot crammed into three weeks.

MLB Opening Day – Atlanta Braves

Atlanta Braves | O/U 34.5 Wins | +1200 to win World Series

And things were going so well.  That is the phrase that comes to mind when looking back on the Braves 2019 season.  They took home the National League East title for the second season in a row, a feat not accomplished by the Braves since Bobby Cox was in the dugout.

They had three players finish in the top-15 of MVP voting with Ronald Acuña Jr, Josh Donaldson and Freddie Freeman putting up big numbers. Starting pitcher Mike Soroka was the runner up for Rookie of the year and even received a few Cy Young Award votes.  They headed into October on top of the MLB standings in the NL East, a position they held since way back in July, and were a popular bet to win it all.

Then Game 5 of the NLDS happened.

The Cardinals jumped all over Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz, who lasted a mere ⅓ of an inning, and led by seven runs before it was too late.  Atlanta ended up losing 13-1 at home and the dream was over.

Lucky for them, the Braves still have a strong chance at repeating as NL East champions with opening day approaching, and are returning most of the team that got them to 97 wins in 2019.  Acuña and Freeman are two-way superstars in their prime and Soroka looks to be a true ace at just 22 years of age.  Add to them up and coming talent such as Cristian Pache and Ozzie Albies and a touch of veteran talent in Nick Markakis and this team is just as dangerous as last year.

Still, their path back to an NL East crown is full of challenges for 2020.  First off, aside from the depressingly sad Marlins, the entire division has stayed as competitive as last year or gotten better.  The Nationals, Mets, and Phillies all finished above .500 last year and will be vying for the same pair of playoff spots.

As far as losses go before 2020 opening day, their big one for the Braves was that of 3B Josh Donaldson, who signed a one year $18M deal to suit up for the Twins this season.  Atlanta moved quickly to fill his spot in the order with the acquisition of OF Marcell Ozuna, but it remains to be seen who will handle duties at the hot corner.  They have options, but none of their currently signed third basemen hit for more than .241 last year and would be a huge liability in the lineup.

Other off-season signings of note would be starters Cole Hamels and Will Smith along with catcher Travis d’Arnaud.  They also kept potential free agents Darren O’Day, Chris Martin and Tyler Flowers under contract for the year ahead.

They still need to try and find an option at 3B who can consistently put the ball in play and maybe a 5th starter in case Kyle Wright struggles again, but this team is still very dangerous. They will likely wait and see what they get from their trio of current third-baseman and lesser starters and make moves in need be as we head into the summer.

The Braves are projected to win 34.5 games in 2020 as we head into opening day, after last season’s 97 win effort.  I personally think this is one of the better MLB betting lines on offer right now and would jump on it before some of their young talents lighting up the scoreboard.

Opening Day Braves Projected Starters:

C – Travis d’Arnaud

1B – Freddie Freeman

2B – Ozzie Albies

3B – Austin Riley

SS – Dansby Swanson

LF – Marcell Ozuna

CF – Ronald Acuña Jr

RF – Nick Markakis

Projected Rotation:

Mike Soroka

Max Fried

Cole Hamels

Mike Foltynewicz

Kyle Wright

Closer:

Mark Melancon