The Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies are currently deadlocked in a tie for first place in the NL East with a 37-29 record. While the Phillies started off the majority of the first two months in the first place, the Braves have stormed back to tie them in first place in recent days.
While many considered the Phillies as the presumptive favorite in the East going into the season after big-ticket offseason acquisitions such as Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen, the 2018 division winners should still be considered as the favorites to win the tight division.
Over the weekend, the Braves made an important signing to bolster their pitching staff. Dallas Keuchel, who spent several years as a quality starter for the Houston Astros, is a key piece that the Braves needed in order to win their division again. While Mike Soroka, Max Fried, and Julio Teheran have formed a formidable 1-2-3 punch at the top of the team’s rotation, Mike Foltynewicz and Kevin Gausman have struggled.
After another “warmup” start in the minor leagues, Keuchel will replace Gausman in Atlanta’s rotation. The All-Star lefty will give Atlanta plenty of quality arms in their rotation, depth that Philadelphia can’t match.
Offensively, the Braves also have an advantage over the Phillies. They have one of the most electric offenses in baseball, buoyed by 21-year-old superstar Ronald Acuña and veteran All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman.
But the Braves’ offense isn’t just their two big stars. They have a deep lineup with no easy outs from 1-8 in the order. When you add a former MVP in Josh Donaldson, a young slugger in Ozzie Albies, and Austin Riley, who has mashed 9 home runs in only 24 games since his call-up in May, into the mix, your lineup’s depth is a nightmare for opposing pitchers.
While the Phillies have sluggers in Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins in their lineup, there are too many everyday players in their offensive mix that simply don’t produce, a problem that Atlanta doesn’t have.
Even the Braves’ biggest weakness, its middle of the pack bullpen with a 4.26 ERA, is better than Philadelphia’s (4.27). Add the fact that the Braves have more financial flexibility to add key bullpen arms down the stretch due to having more money available after modest offseason spending, and you can see why they’re even better positioned to have a good bullpen down the stretch.
The division race will probably be tight all season, but Atlanta is positioned to win the division for a second consecutive season. I expect them to race into the playoffs once again.