Can the young Braves be even better this year or will they regress?

The Atlanta Braves were one win away from winning a playoff series in 2019. Can this young team be better in 2020 or is it an obvious regression candidate?

This is the year for the young Atlanta Braves.

Atlanta may have back-to-back division titles but doesn’t have a single playoff series victory to show for it. The Braves have not advanced in a postseason series since 2001. It’s been 25 years since the “Team of the 90s” won a World Series. Not to say the Braves need to accomplish that for this season to be a success, but it’s postseason advancement or bust for this team.

Atlanta’s roster can hang with anybody. Freddie Freeman is an established star, though Ronald Acuna Jr. has the potential to be better than him. Guys like Ozzie Albies, Ender Inciarte and Nick Markakis have all made All-Star Game appearances in recent years in Atlanta uniform. Dansby Swanson might be next.

The Braves also made a few tinkerings to their lineup this offseason. Though they lost Josh Donaldson to the Minnesota Twins in free agency and Brian McCann to retirement, Atlanta added Marcell Ozuna‘s bat to the lineup to offset Donaldson’s departure, as well as adding Travis d’Arnaud‘s veteran presence behind the dish.

And that’s just the offense…

Though the Braves don’t have the starting pitching close to what it did during that run of 14 straight division titles, it’s starting to come together for this young team. Mike Soroka has become the ace sadly Julio Teheran never could. Teheran now plays for the Los Angeles Angels, but Atlanta brought in a former World Series champion as his replacement in southpaw Cole Hamels.

With Soroka as the ace, Atlanta has guys like Hamels, Max Fried, Mike Foltynewicz and future Baseball Hall of Famer Felix Hernandez rounding out the rotation. Fried is expected to take the leap forward in 2020. Foltynewicz has had his consistency issues but is a great pitcher when he’s on. Of course, Hamels and Hernandez are known commodities who will make this staff better.

As with the starting rotation, the Braves bullpen has been remade and found itself last season. Adding guys like Shane Greene, Chad Martin and Mark Melancon accelerated the growth of a solid supporting cast featuring the likes of Luke Jackson, A.J. Minter and Sean Newcomb. This is still the Braves’ weakest link, but their Achilles’ heel is still better than many teams’ cornerstones.

This is a great roster perfectly assembled by a talented general manager in Alex Anthopoulos and led by an excellent skipper in Brian Snitker. Dare I say it, but “The Braves Way” is starting to work again. Heck, even the distant ownership group Liberty Media is behind fielding a winner. The question is if the Braves are poised to take a step forward this season or take one step back.

In the NL East, the Braves’ biggest threats have to be the Washington Nationals. They not only were a postseason team a year ago but won their first World Series in franchise history. The Nationals caught fire in October in a way the Braves haven’t been able to do in decades. Washington could win the division, but the Nationals could be in for a World Series hangover.

Other contenders in the division for the crown are the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies. New York has been dysfunctional as all get up since reaching the World Series in 2015. However, losing right-hander Noah Syndergaard to Tommy John surgery dampers the Mets’ chances of hoisting a banner. Philadelphia is a serious threat too but doesn’t have the roster of the Braves.

Overall, Atlanta should remain one of the five best teams in the Senior Circuit this season. Anything short of a postseason berth would be a disappointment. If the Braves host the NL Wild Card, they need to win it. As for an NLDS matchup, they can’t lose to a team there were better than in the regular season like the St. Louis Cardinals again. This team needs an NLCS series.

But are the Braves a regression candidate? Let’s not rule that out entirely. Washington is a really good team and one certainly capable of winning the division. New York and Philadelphia can be Wild Card teams or NL East dark horse contenders. Though the Miami Marlins are no threat, they’ll be a decent team one day soon, right?

Frankly, we’re getting to the point with the Braves were the expectations are becoming a tad unrealistic. Are they good enough to win the division again? Yes. Should they be a postseason team again? Absolutely. But to say it’s NLCS or bust feels a tad pushing it. It’s their stage if they want it to be.

However, Atlanta deserves a team that can advance in the postseason. This team has the talent to at least do that. But will they get it done? We’ll just have to wait and see about that. Only time will tell. This is the year they need to do it. Otherwise, it’ll be a step in the wrong direction they may not be able to overcome in 2021.

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