“The Future Champions of the World” – An Atlanta Braves preview

Marge: “Homer! Watch your mouth!”

Homer: “Aw, I gotta go. My damn wiener kids are listening”

Lisa: “We are not wieners!”

Homer: “Then what are you dressed like that for?”

Bart & Lisa: “They made us.”

Homer: “‘Oh, they made us.’ That’s loser-talk! You gotta start acting more like me and my team, the future champions of the world. Nothing’s going to stop us now!”

It’s not going to be fun, but let’s re-visit the last time the White Sox faced the Atlanta Braves. It was July 2016, and the early 23-10 rush that propelled the Sox to a 6-game lead in the AL Central had already become a distant memory. That being said, the Sox were rallying, having used a 7-3 stretch to get them back to three games over .500. The hapless 29-57 Braves were coming into town, and #BARVES was a common Twitter hashtag to poke fun at their clownish ways.

That series more or less was the beginning of the end of the season. Tyler Flowers took Chris Sale deep, Gordon Beckham (not to mention Jeff Francoeur) took Jose Quintana deep, the Sox got blanked by a pre-breakout Mike Foltynewicz, and the series was lost to the laughingstocks of the National League. The Sox would have fallen well short of the playoffs even if they swept the #BARVES, but for all intents and purposes, this series finished off the Rick Hahn era’s first attempt at contention.

The task will be taller for the White Sox this time around, as the Atlanta baseball team is the #BARVES no longer. They’re the class of the NL East, and hold one of the best records in baseball. This has largely been accomplished on the strength of their offense, which is an excellent blend of veterans and exciting young talent. Ronald Acuna Jr. has had a stellar season out of the leadoff spot for the Braves, as he leads the National League in stolen bases while still finding time to club 36 homers. At just age 21, he’s already the best player on this team. 22-year-old switch-hitter Ozzie Albies has also had a strong season, as a good contact hitter with pop and speed. These two have been the spark plugs that make the Braves’ offense work.

If you want a fact that will make you feel old, Freddie Freeman is in his 10th season in Atlanta and will turn 30 in a couple weeks. Over his past seven seasons, Freeman’s OPS+ has ranged from 132 to 157, making him one of the most consistent middle-of-the-order bats in the game and virtual lock for enshrinement in the not-at-all-made-up Hall of Very Good. He’s backed in the lineup by Josh Donaldson, who’s got a great shot at the Comeback Player of the Year award, and is proving to be one of the better one-year gambles in recent memory. One of my bolder baseball opinions is that Donaldson will be worthy of the Hall of Fame when his career is done, on the strength of being the second-best position player in the game from 2013-2017.

Tyler Flowers’ offensive numbers have finally come back down to where they were when he was on the South Side, but he’s still at least a league-average catcher on the strength of his defense, same as it was when Rick Hahn unceremoniously and extremely consequentially non-tendered him. With Nick Markakis on the IL, the Braves’ right fielder is now a platoon of base-on-balls machine Matt Joyce and fairly unremarkable Charlie Culberson, beacuse “fairly unremarkable” is a massive improvement over letting Joyce face a lefty. Dansby Swanson, famous for being donated traded to the Braves in the Shelby Miller deal, has somewhat overcome his early-career hitting woes and his 40 extra-base hits this season make him about a league-average shortstop at age 25. Left fielder Rafael Ortega doesn’t belong in the major leagues, let alone as a starter for a first place team; get well soon, Austin Riley.

The Sox will face a trio of reasonably tough customers on the mound this series, starting with lefty Max Fried, who has shed the swingman label in a largely successful season. His fastball doesn’t have a great deal of vertical carry, but there’s plenty of bounce in the curve. If you have time, check out this video of him freezing Kyle Schwarber (around 0:39) and the accompanying slow motion replay. It made me happy, anyway.

Sox fans should be well-familiar with Dallas Keuchel from his time on the Astros and from the endless free agency saga that landed him in Atlanta. He’s still a soft-tossing, command-and-control groundballin’ lefty who even during his heyday was better at managing contact than overpowering hitters. Like Freeman, Julio Teheran feels like a relative dinosaur at this point, having made his debut for the Braves in 2011. Teheran throws a fourseam and a sinker, and the latter is particularly tough because of how well it’s disguised as the former.

***

The Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs are common benchmarks against which fans measure rebuilds, likely because both efforts culminated in World Series titles. However, the Braves have put together a reasonably efficient rebuild that could easily rival the success of those two when all is said and done. They suffered for three seasons, won their division in the fourth year, and have a great shot to win a title in the near future. The White Sox had better put up a fight next season, because as more data points like this emerge, it’s going to be harder and harder to justify what’s going on here if they don’t.

Probable Starting Pitchers

Probable Lineup

  1. Ronald Acuna Jr. – CF
  2. Ozzie Albies – 2B
  3. Freddie Freeman – 1B
  4. Josh Donaldson – 3B
  5. Matt Joyce – RF
  6. Dansby Swanson – SS
  7. Rafael Ortega – LF
  8. Tyler Flowers – C

Pitching

***

This concludes the 2019 team preview series on Sox Machine. I’d like to thank The Simpsons for their neverending database of quotes that they didn’t realize were applicable to 2019 major league baseball teams. I hope you all found these some combination of entertaining and informative. Thanks for reading!

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Patrick Nolan
Patrick Nolan
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Jim Margalus

Flowers’ framing is still elite, but it seems like he’s directed the aging decline to passed balls. 15 of them in 70 games.

ForsterFTOG

Yet another front office to be jealous of.

NDSox12

The fact that their GM of two years ago is now banned from baseball for life clouds that picture a bit.

As Cirensica

Alex Anthopoulus was jobless for a while and I really was rooting for the Sox to get him, but… that’s only possible in an alternate reality.

PauliePaulie

A perfect example of allowing prospect development dictate the timing of outside additions.

marquettepark

John jay is out for at least 10 days with hip problems. Recycle the old – Cordell. That’s exciting and uplifting to fans Hahn. Jeez

Jim Margalus
lil jimmy

A year is longer the 10 days. I checked.
Maybe for good. Next year he’s 35, with no power and no speed.

As Cirensica

Cool…Yonder will enjoy the company.

PauliePaulie

That’s really unfair.
Not experiencing the AAA playoff hunt will be terrible for Cordell’s development.

lil jimmy

I bet the salary difference will help.

itaita

I will always read Soroka’s name as Sirotka.

jorgefabregas

White Sox shit-canned Matt Lisle?

jorgefabregas

It would be interesting to know which players he worked with most. Minor league improvement stories this year are Robert, Collins, and maybe Sheets? Young guys in the DSL and AZL did better than they usually do for the White Sox. Players taking a step back were almost everyone from Great Falls to Birmingham.

Jim Margalus

Fegan wrote about Johansen in Kannapolis, but Lisle wasn’t mentioned.

As Cirensica

He didn’t last long…not even a year. Small sample size applies here? Weird.

PauliePaulie

Smallest analytics group in MLB gets a little smaller.

Do we have a head of amateur scouting yet?

TCBullfrog

Next Year, The Critic