The Atlanta Braves have quietly built one of baseball's top up-and-coming contenders. Last season, the Braves posted their 2nd consecutive 90+ win season along with their second straight NL East title. Atlanta's 97-65 record in 2019 marked their best won-loss mark since winning 101 games in 2003. Unfortunately, the Braves' postseason push ended prematurely last year when they fell to the Cardinals in five games in the NLDS.
Playoff success has proved to be elusive for Atlanta over the past two decades. Since 2001, the Braves have made the postseason ten times but have only advanced beyond the Division Series once (lost in NLCS in 2001). In an attempt to change its playoff fortunes, Atlanta made several key offseason moves. The biggest splash was signing former Cardinals outfielder Marcell Ozuna to replace third baseman Josh Donaldson, who left to go to the Twins in free agency. Atlanta also lost veteran starters Julio Teheran and Dallas Keuchel in free agency but signed former World Series MVP Cole Hamels to reinvigorate the rotation. The Braves added former Giants closer Will Smith to fortify the bullpen and signed former Rays catcher Travis d'Arnaud to take over behind the plate.
Unfortunately, Atlanta has also been one of the hardest hit teams by the Coronavirus. Four-time All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman (.295, 38 homers, 121 RBIs in 2019) recently tested positive for the virus and will be out indefinitely, along with the newly acquired Smith. Veteran outfielder Nick Markakis and pitcher Felix Hernandez have also elected to sit out the season due to covid concerns.
The Braves have one of the deepest and most talented starting lineups in baseball, led by a pair of young studs in 22-year-old Ronald Acuna Jr (.280, 41 homers, 101 RBIs) and 23-year-old Ozzie Albies (.295, 24 homers, 86 RBIs). The lineup will be further strengthened with the addition of the DH in the National League.
Here is their projected starting lineup with Freeman in the fold:
1. Ronald Acuna Jr OF
2. Ozzie Albies 2B
3. Marcell Ozuna DH
4. Freddie Freeman 1B
5. Ender Inciarte OF
6. Dansby Swanson SS
7. Austin Riley 3B
8. Johan Camargo OF
9. Travis d'Arnaud C
The Braves have a young and improving rotation. They will expect another big leap forward from 22-year-old ace Mike Soroka (13-4, 2.68 ERA) and 26-year-old southpaw Max Fried (17-6, 4.02 ERA).
1. Mike Soroka
2. Max Fried
3. Cole Hamels
4. Mike Foltynewicz
5. Sean Newcomb
The bullpen features closer Mark Melancon along with setup men Shane Greene and Smith.
So what do the oddsmakers expect from Atlanta in 2020?
At BetMGM, Atlanta's win total is 33.5. This translates to 90.5 wins based on a 162-game schedule. The over 33.5 is -115 and the under -105. This heavy over juice signals likely smart money and house liability on the Braves winning 34 or more games.
Fangraphs, one of the most trusted sites for advanced baseball analytics, is projecting the Braves with a 33-27 record.
The Braves haven't won the World Series since 1995. Atlanta is + 1400 to end the drought this year, giving the Braves the 4th-best World Series odds overall. Only the Dodgers (+ 350), Yankees (+ 400) and Astros (+ 800) are higher.
Atlanta has the 2nd-best odds to win the National League at + 700, trailing only the Dodgers at + 145.
The Braves are + 180 favorites to win their third straight division title. The Nationals are a close second at + 240 followed by the Mets and Phillies both + 325 and then the Marlins a distant + 15000 longshot.
Atlanta has several MVP contenders. Acuna Jr has the 2nd best odds at + 600, trailing only Mookie Betts at + 500. Freeman is + 2500 followed by Albies + 5000 and Ozuna + 8000.
Acuna Jr is + 500 to lead the NL in runs scored, trailing only Betts are + 350. Acuna Jr is + 450 to lead the NL in stolen bases. Only Trea Turner (+ 225) is higher.
Acuna Jr's over/under homers is set at 14.5 (over -120, under -110), RBIs 36.5 (-115 both sides) and steals 11.5 (over -120, under -115).
Albies is + 1000 to lead the NL in batting average, tied with Ketel Marte for 3rd-best odds. Christian Yelich and Nolan Arrenado are the co-favorites at + 800.
Soroka and Fried are both + 3000 to win the NL Cy Young. Soroka is + 1600 to lead the NL in wins while Fried is + 2000.