Atlanta Braves

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Let The Kids Play

By: Buck Blanz

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

After watching the Braves vs. Nationals, I began to think about the same debate that has gone on since the two made their Major League Debut in 2018.

Who would you prefer as a centerpiece for your baseball franchise, Ronald Acuná Jr. or Juan Soto?

Juan Soto hit a walkoff single to win the Season Opener for the Washington Nationals and extend the Braves losing streak to four games.

In that same game Acuña hit two solo shot homers off of Max Scherzer and one of those being the first pitch of the ball game.

Acuña has played a pivotal role in the Braves three consecutive division championships, whereas Juan Soto was a key contributor for the Nationals World Series victory over the Houston Astros in 2019.

Juan Soto is just about 10-months younger than Ronald Acuña Jr. and both have had an immense impact on their teams, as well as sending ripples throughout the MLB with their top-tier talent displayed on the field.

Their MLB debuts were both within a month of one another and neither of the two have looked back since… so why not take a look and see how they stack up against one another at the beginning of their fourth season.

Ronald Acuña Jr.: Career Stats: .281 AVG/.371 OBP/.911 OPS, 83 Home Runs, 61 Doubles, 198 RBI’s, with 63 Stolen Bases.

Throughout Acuna’s time in Atlanta, he is probably most known for his spark and swagger while he plays the game.

As a result, the Braves coaching staff decided to insert Ronald at the top of the batting lineup in order to ‘get the ball rolling’ and it’s fair to say it works more often than not.

Ronald gets a lot of respect at the plate but that often results in the fans overlooking what he is capable of in the outfield. With his terrific speed and a cannon for an arm, Acuña is consistently a threat to throw anyone out from his position in right field.

Which is just further proof of why Acuña is consistently in the mix for a National League MVP, along with his teammate Freedie Freeman the 2020 National League MVP.

There is no doubt about the electricity Ronald provides Braves Country but the downside for Acuña would be that his arrogance gets the best of the 23-year-old at times.

Most say that will come with time as he will mature throughout his career in Atlanta.

However, Acuña has already acquired outstanding awards such as the NL Rookie of the Year in 2018 as well as the Silver Slugger Award in 2019 and 2020.

Juan Soto: Career Stats: .285 AVG/.416 OBP/.971 OPS, 69 Home Runs, 71 Doubles, 218 RBI’s, with just 24 Stolen Bases.

After being a runner-up to Acuna’s rookie of the year honors in 2018, Soto has been one of the most dependable guys on a daily basis in all of baseball.

He put his name on the map with his performances throughout the 2019 postseason, where the Nationals won their first and only World Series Title with the help of Soto’s clutch performances.

Soto delivered again and again for Washington in that playoff run and continues to play well under the spotlight.

Soto is much better at waiting for his pitch than Acuña is, helping him to his impressive on base percentage at .416 through his career thus far.

However, the biggest difference between these two players would be speed.

Soto is just not able to match the speed and strength that Acuna brings to the table each night.

At the same time, Soto’s poise on the big stage, as well as his calm demeanor is what seems to make him slightly more attractive to some people than Acuña.

Safe to say that both these outstanding outfielders are two of the best in the game, but who would you rather build your baseball club around, Acuña or Soto?

 

 

Acuna Matata

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Pitchers and catchers report in just a few weeks.

The Major League Baseball season is quickly approaching and it is time to start talking baseball, while the Kansas City Chiefs are in the process of winning back-to-back Super Bowls.

Back to my topic, who the most exciting player in baseball?

That answer is easy to me his name is Ronald Acuna Jr. Is there a more beautiful swing in all of baseball than his? The ball just explodes off his bat.

I have been watching videos of him hitting bombs this offseason in his native Venezuela with the classic bat flip and doing some humanitarian work in a once great country that has been ravaged by a dictator.

The pandemic shortened season of 2020 kept Acuna from chasing the 40-40 HR/Stolen base club. He blasted 14 home runs in just 46 games and 202 plate appearances.

Acuna recorded 40 hits with 25 of them going for extra bases. He battled a nagging wrist injury that hampered him all of last season.  Acuna had an OBP of .406 which is outstanding and walked 38 times in those 202 plate appearances.

The offensive stats are always going to be there with Acuna. The consistency of where he plays in the field has not.

Cristian Pache’s arrival in center field means that Acuna will move permanently to his natural spot of right field, where he can settle in defensively. Acuna has been blessed by the Baseball God’s with a cannon for a right arm.

Back to Acuna and the 40/40 club discussion. Becoming a member of the 40–40 club is an elusive achievement in modern American baseball, as very few players possess both the power to hit 40 home runs and the speed to steal 40 bases in a season.

Generally, a player with the strength to hit 40 home runs will not have nearly the speed necessary to steal 40 bases, and vice versa.

There are only four members of the 40/40 club in the history of baseball:

 

Members of the 40–40 club:

Year/Player/Team/HR/SB

1988    Jose Canseco   Oakland Athletics        42        40

1996    Barry Bonds     San Francisco Giants   42        40

1998    Alex Rodriguez            Seattle Mariners         42        46

2006    Alfonso Soriano           Washington Nationals           46        41

 

In 2019 Acuna barely missed the elite club by belting 41 HR’s and stealing 37 bases. Acuna could be the first player to achieve this milestone more than once in his career.

I actually think in the next 5 years Acuna will be the only man in MLB history to reach the 50/50 club.

The 2021 Braves are good enough to win the World Series. Probably should have beat the Dodgers in 2020 but we will chalk that up to lack of playoff experience.

I do know this, if I’m looking for one player to build a baseball team around it would be Ronald Acuna Jr.

He is a generational talent, and I would not be surprised if he wins the NL MVP in 2021.

The Braves have him signed to a long-term deal, but soon will have to renegotiate that deal to make Acuna one of the highest paid players in the game.

Braves fans, baseball season is almost upon us, and I hope we enjoy the next few years because they have the potential to be special, and Ronald Acuna Jr. will be the best player in baseball during that run.

MVP

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

It seems bonkers to be thinking about and talking about end of the year awards for the Major League Baseball season when not even two months have passed since the first pitch of the season was thrown, but here we are.

The pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign will be over soon and things like Cy Young Awards, MVPs, Gold Gloves, and Silver Sluggers must be given out.

So, with that in mind, I’d like to make a case for a player who should be the National League Most Valuable Player this season: Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman.

Freeman has long been respected as one of the most consistent players in the game, if not the top player at his position.

He’s had All Star appearances, won Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers, but the one thing (other than a World Series ring, of course) missing from his trophy case is an MVP award.

This year, for all its flaws and weirdness, presents the best opportunity for Freddie to fill that spot on the shelf.

As with most seasons, Freeman has hit for average and power, with good RBI numbers as well as a great OPS and WAR (for you sabermetric fans out there).

But it also seems like every year he hovers just under the radar for serious award consideration.

This year seemed to be shaping up much in the same way, but Freeman has gotten incredibly hot, slugging his first two career grand slams, tons of multi-hit games, and a two-homerun game to boot.

In that stretch, his batting average skyrocketed over .330 and his OPS topped 1.000 (a whopping, and league leading, 1.075). He also is the top of the league in RBI’s, driving in runs at a torrid clip.

But the case isn’t just made because of his numbers alone. The Braves, who have been favorites to win the NL East all season, have seen their starting rotation decimated over the course of the season, and Cy Young candidate Max Fried hitting the Injured List could very well have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Short of taking the mound himself, Freddie’s offensive explosion has seen him do everything he can to prevent Atlanta from slipping out of first place in the division, as the Philadelphia Phillies have given chase.

Freeman is also a team player. The Braves third hitter for almost his entire career, he responded well to being moved up to the two-hole after leadoff man Ronald Acuna, Jr. was hurt and kept out of the lineup for a few games.

He responded so well that Brian Snitker has kept him there after the young outfielder’s return.

Credit to where it’s due: Freddie always thrives when someone with some thunder hits behind him.

Last season, Freeman was awarded the Silver Slugger after a year of having Josh Donaldson batting in the cleanup spot.

This year Marcel Ozuna has been a revelation, protecting Freddie and giving opposing pitchers a veritable Sophie’s Choice of who to pitch for in any situation.

In fact, for a while there it looked like Ozuna would be the Braves’ most likely MVP candidate.

While Ozuna continued to thrive in Atlanta, Freeman has jumped into the forefront of the conversation both in Atlanta and, I hope, the minds of the MVP voters.

It’s time for Freddie to stop being the bridesmaid and get married. I now pronounce him the NL MVP.

You may win the World Series now.

The NL East Beast

By: Mike Anthony

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Climbing the mountain to attain a division championship in Major League Baseball is tough. Maintaining superiority and defending a division title is even tougher.

But doing so while still trying to figure out a way to get to – and win – a World Series is as challenging as it gets.

That’s the problem facing the Atlanta Braves this winter.

The Braves surprised all of baseball by taking the NL East in 2018. Last season, Atlanta was a known power and excelled despite many more expectations placed on it to defend its division crown.

However, the postseason result remained the same as the Braves were bounced in the divisional series for a second straight year.

Heading into 2020, there is no doubt that the Braves will be a contender once again. The young guys who have emerged over the last couple of seasons are now entering their primes, while others like Freddie Freeman, Mike Foltynewicz and Nick Markakis are grizzled and reliable veterans playing at a high level.

Everything suggests that the Braves will be as good as ever and recent signings of Cole Hamels and Will Smith can only help. However, they might also find themselves in the day-to-day fire of competing in the best division in baseball.

Obviously, the elephant in the room is the Washington Nationals. The Nats couldn’t top the Braves in the regular season, but got the last laugh in winning the World Series.

The Nationals re-signing of Stephen Strasburg meant they would let All-Star third-baseman, Anthony Rendon walk, but Washington is more concerned with how healthy they can be.

The main reason for their second-place finish in the NL East last season was that it took two months for the team to get healthy. Once everyone was in place, the Nationals had the best record in all of baseball.

The New York Mets are in a similar spot. It seems as if the Mets have been terminally bitten by the injury bug as they have been underachieving and often short-handed for most of the last three seasons.

That said, New York still has an imposing starting rotation and could easily get into a division race if its bats can stay in the lineup all season.

Then there are the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phils won the 2018 offseason by signing Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen, while trading for J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura.

However, injuries plagued McCutchen and Segura, while nearly the entire bullpen was lost due to various ailments.

Philadelphia continues to dole out money as it has already signed pitcher Zack Wheeler and shortstop Didi Gregorious.

Aside from the still-rebuilding Marlins, there is no reason for any of the other four teams in the division to expect anything less than a winning record and a serious run at the postseason.

If the division proves to be as competitive on the field as it appears on paper, the Braves figure to have a bit of an advantage in that their roster is stocked with guys who have thrived down the stretch in division races the last two seasons.

Then again, the Braves were also the healthiest of the top four division finishers last season and could face a very different situation if they are forced to battle through constant lineup changes.

With winter approaching, baseball may seem a long way off, but a big part of every championship season occurs in November and December when pieces are shifted around by squads in hopes of solving the World Series puzzle.

It’s been a long time since the Braves’ ridiculous run of 14 consecutive division championships and the ways of baseball have changed to where even truly great teams might only have a window of a few years in which they can compete for a World Series.

This is that moment for Atlanta and the front office is clearly going for it. Now it’s just a matter of seeing how things play out.

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