Well folks, they did it. The Braves managed to climb out of the doldrums of a plodding rebuild and establish themselves as NL East Division winners. I don't like to use the word champions because there's only one champion in baseball every year and it wasn't us. However, this Braves team did manage to win 90 games and smoke the rest of the division by an 8 game lead when the dust settled. For a team expected to win games in maybe the mid-to-high 70s? This is a massive over performance and a great season.
My favorite moment of the season? I'm glad you asked. It was early in the season against the Marlins on May 20th. The Marlins had jumped all over Julio Teheran, and I disgustedly turned off the game after he gave up a 6-0 lead in the 4th inning. But sensing something that evening, for no reason at all I turned the game back on in the 8th. What unfolded at that point was one of the best comebacks of the season. The Braves were down 9-4 heading to the bottom of the 9th inning. Dansby Swanson is first up and immediately strikes out. So with one out and nobody on, things looked impossible.
But then, a walk. And a single. And a sac fly. Now with it 9-5, and two outs, the game is surely over right? Wrong. Freeman gets an infield single because the Marlins throw the ball away, and Albies scores making it 9-6. Then Freeman takes second on fielder indifference and Markakis knocks him in with a single to make it 9-7.
Starting to panic, the Marlins made a pitching change, but to no avail. Markakis stole second, Flowers walked, and Suzuki knocked Markakis in with a single making it 9-8. Now with runners on first and second, the Marlins threw a wild pitch to move both runners into scoring position for, guess who, Dansby Swanson who started the inning with a strikeout. And what does Dansby do? He comes in for the clutch hit that plates both Flowers and Suzuki, and the Braves win the game 10-9 in epic fashion.
It was easily the craziest and best comeback of the year in a year with lots of great comebacks. Also to me it highlights the strength of this 2018 Braves team, which is late inning rallies. They were never out of games, and they never quit. In fact, statistically they were the 3rd highest scoring team in the last three innings of game, behind only Houston and Boston. All of those were playoff teams and Boston won the World Series. That's great company for a young team really learning how to play at the highest level.
What else do we need to do to recap the season? Oh that's right let's look at my bold predictions from the beginning of the year:
- The Braves will score over 750 runs this year. TRUE, they finished with 759 runs, just outdoing my prediction by a nose.
- The Braves will hit 200+ Home Runs. FALSE, they only hit 175, and we probably needed a few more to be a serious playoff contender down the stretch. This is where I'd focus if I'm building the team for the offseason, we need more power.
- Ronald Acuna wins Rookie of the Year. TRUE, he's already won in certain publications, and he had a huge polling lead in the Baseball Writers poll, so I'm going to assume he's got it locked up there as well.
- Julio Teheran will be amazing. FALSE, wishful thinking here compadres. Julio stunk. His ERA was almost 4.00 in 175 innings, and his WAR was 56th out of 57 qualified starters. He was so bad the Braves didn't even trust him to start a playoff game, opting for Sean Newcomb instead. I expect they will desperately try to trade him in the offseason to the highest bidder.
- The rest of the rotation outside of Julio will be a disaster. - FALSE, the only reason this is false is because Folty had a great year as a starter as did Anabal Sanchez when he was healthy. Other than that, the wheels came off of the pitching staff for the most part, and McCarthy got injured so badly he couldn't finish the season.
- The bullpen won't be a complete disaster this year. TRUE, yall may fight me on this one, but the bullpen in 2017 was 26th in the league. This year they were 17th in the league in ERA. That's middle of the pack which is NOT a complete disaster. So I'm counting it.
- A Brave will throw a no-hitter. FALSE, every year we get so close. This year is was Sean Newcomb losing it with 2 outs in the 9th against the freaking Dodgers. I'll continue to predict it until it happens.
- Nick Markakis won't be traded. TRUE, Nick was with us the whole way, and that was a good thing because it helped the Braves get to the playoffs a year ahead of schedule. The haters can hate all they want.
- Dansby Swanson will have a come-back year. TRUE, Dansby coming off a horrible year with a negative WAR and a sub .640 OPS managed to improve his OPS numbers to almost .700, his slugging by almost 70 points, his fielding errors reduced by half. All in all, it's over a 2.5 point move in the positive direction for his WAR, which I count as a good comeback. Now will he hold the position forever? Not if he continues to stand pat, he must improve on this year to be the starter for the rest of this Braves run.
- The Braves win 75 games. FALSE, we beat that by 15. I undersold this team this year, which is rare for me, but I was really concerned about the pitching. That actually came true, but the problem was the offense really faded in the last month when it mattered most, and the offense is what got them to the playoffs. Example, if you look at the Braves runs scored in September? They were 14th in MLB. That's a drop off of 6 positions from their pre-All-Star-break position of 8th in runs scored. That carried over to the playoffs where the Braves only scored 8 runs, in 4 games, and two of those they were completely shut out.
5-5 on Predictions. Dead average. I'm a coin-flip of mediocrity at predicting this team.
So what does the future hold? I hope we see some offseason moves that really bolster the pitching staff and give us some power in the middle of the lineup. The Braves have the money to spend with their new stadium and Battery revenues, so I believe they'll plow some of that money back into the team. That means during free agency I'd be looking at a new right fielder, a new catcher, a possible power infielder for either starting or utility, and a lot of help in the bullpen.
We'll see how it shakes out around the hot stove. See you in 2019!