Thursday, December 5, 2019

Uncustomed Heroes of 2019: Braves

 For the second straight year, the Atlanta Braves advanced in the standings with enough leeway to make the playoffs, only to be eliminated in the first round. This was a bit more heartbreaking, as this was a better team this year, with a lot more depth, despite the usual bullpen dysfunction.

Austin Riley was a smart call-up for the Braves, despite missing some time and lowering his average. Riley still had 49 RBIs in 81 games, and proved to be a nice late-lineup bat for the majority of the summer.
Why Him in 2019?: He was probably the best rookie on this team, and could be a perennial performer for Atlanta for a while.
2020 Prediction: A higher average for a fuller season, and a 25-homer year.

2019 was a down year for Mike Foltynewicz, especially compared to his monster, breakout 2018. Folty's ERA ballooned to 4.54, and he only had 105 strikeouts. His postseason numbers were a little more balanced, but he still started that notorious Game 5, which was a multi-run parade for St. Louis.
Why Him in 2019?: His downslope led to the rise of Dallas Keuchel, Max Fried and Mike Soroka.
2020 Prediction: Folty will be back to peak numbers, and Hamels' influence will help him immensely.

 After a modest start in Queens, Adeiny Hechavarria made his way to Atlanta late in the year, and upon arriving, he started tearing things up like it was Miami again. In 24 games, Hecha had a .328 average with 20 hits and 15 RBIs, and got some starts at short instead of Swanson in the playoffs.
Why Him in 2019?: Hecha was a valuable infield presence when #1 draft pick Dansby Swanson couldn't be.
2020 Prediction: Someone with some heft will sign him, and use him as a backup infielder...til the starter gets injured and he returns to dominance.

A surprising development was the rise of Matt Joyce as an outfield option, especially after Austin Riley's DL stint. You don't expect Joyce to be in the mix with Acuna and Markakis there, but until Billy Hamilton got there, he was a strong bench/starting bat. Joyce's .295 average was his highest EVER.
Why Him in 2019?: Because this was Joyce's biggest crack at a starting gig since Pittsburgh
2020 Prediction: He'll be a late-offseason signing, and he won't get nearly as much playing time as he did in 2019.

 Another young pitcher who struggled after a strong 2018, Sean Newcomb had a rocky start starting games before being moved to the bullpen, where he fared slightly better, posting a 3.04 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 51 relief appearances.
Why Him in 2019?: Proof that there are good relievers in Atlanta...they're just all failed starters.
2020 Prediction: Will start some games, possibly 5th in the rotation, and reclaim some of his goodwill before being moved back to the bullpen following a July acquisition.

 And then there's Adam Duvall, who's been very Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde in Atlanta. Last year he was awful, with a .132 average in 33 games. This year, in 41 games post-callup, Duvall did a lot better, with a .267 average, 10 home runs and 32 hits. Now to Cincinnati levels, but not bad.
Why Him in 2019?: Proved he could still hit for distance after last year.
2020 Prediction: Will get some starts, but will mostly be a sturdy, reliable bench bat for the Braves. And he might have one big postseason moment.

Now, onto more deadline acquisitions. Shane Greene was set to jump right into the ninth and solve Atlanta's closing pitching problem. That didn't happen. After a few blown saves and a VERY bloated ERA, Greene was passed over in favor of Mark Melancon. Still, Greene did fine in middle relief, ending the half with a 4 ERA.
Why Him in 2019?: Because every strong first half needs an epilogue, and if I didn't make one of his Braves tenure, I'd be pretending it didn't happen.
2020 Prediction: He gets the ninth back and ends 2020 with 25 saves.

 The most intriguing waiver deal for Atlanta was landing speedster Billy Hamilton from Kansas City, despite his middling numbers. Hamilton thankfully improved upon landing in ATL, ending the year with a .268 average, 11 hits, and 4 of his trademark stolen bases.
Why Him in 2019?: Billy got his first postseason steal ever with the Braves.
2020 Prediction: I wouldn't be surprised if KC re-signs him, or at least someone similarly out of the conversation. And he'll do reasonably well for them.
And yet the best story of the Braves' year might have been Francisco Cervelli. After missing some time for Pittsburgh  due to concussions, Frenchy swore he'd never catch again, and resigned himself to possibly ending his career. Then the Braves claimed him off waivers, and he caught fire for them instantly, with 3 RBIs in his first three games as a Brave, and with a .667 average in August.
Why Him in 2019?: Because he triumphed when he could have quit, and made it to the postseason.
2020 Prediction: Will probably be a backup somewhere. Possibly Seattle?

Coming Tomorrow- They just missed another postseason run, but the Brewers are far from out of it for 2020.

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