Here’s your new-look everyday eight: Kurt Suzuki/Tyler Flowers, the latter just back from injury; Freddie Freeman; Albies; Swanson; Flaherty/Johan Camargo; Acuna; Ender Inciarte; Nick Markakis. Here’s what Phillies manager Gabe Kapler told reporters Sunday after watching his team lose 10-1 on Sunday, a day when Albies led off with a homer Acuna hit two doubles and Inciarte, batting ninth, went 3-for-4: “It’s just a very deep, strong lineup. … It will grind you down. It’s a really good lineup.”
One month ago, the Braves had one foundational player – Freeman. Acuna is 20, Albies 21. They’re the youngest players in the majors. They’re also among the most gifted. It wasn’t so long ago that the Braves were Freeman and a bunch of journeymen. They’re that no longer.
If you watch the Philadelphia 76ers today, you’ll see a good-looking young squad that could well grace the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals. It’s hard to believe these same Sixers went 109-301 over the previous five seasons, but that’s the way of rebuilds. They look awful until they don’t. Again we reference the Astros, 100-game losers in 2011, 2012 and 2013 – and World Series champs in 2017.
The three Johns – Schuerholz, Hart and Coppolella – launched their reset because they believed Frank Wren, “terminated” as general manager in September 2014, had rendered the farm system barren. That wasn’t quite true: Albies, Acuna and Camargo were signed via the international market on Wren’s watch. Drafts were a different matter – remember Matt Lipka, first-rounder? – and that’s the part of this rebuild we still haven’t seen. No pitcher drafted under Coppolella has reached the majors. That’s your Stage 2, which could commence any day.
Pitching, or the lack thereof, remains the reason to doubt the 2018 Braves will become a true contender. It’s hard to know what to make of Julio Teheran, whose velocity keeps dipping. Mike Foltynewicz is the definition of inefficient. Brandon McCarthy has been good, but his injury history means fingers are forever crossed. Sean Newcomb seems a slightly lesser version of Foltynewicz. The bullpen has steadied a bit but is still an area of need
But if we’re viewing the Braves alongside the Phillies – and that’s pretty much all we’ve been doing – which team would you take, not just over the next five months but the next five years? Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera are nice players, but they’re closer to Freeman’s age than to Acuna’s. Maikel Franco may have topped out at 23. The 2B/SS combo of Cesar Hernandez and J.P. Crawford is 27 and 23, respectively; Albies and Swanson are 21 and 24. The Braves have two catchers better than any Philly has. The Braves also have Freeman.
Even though the Braves have clobbered Vince Velasquez three times, you’d take the Phillies’ rotation over this. Aaron Nola is excellent; Arrieta has a Cy Young in his portfolio. You might take their bullpen, though that’s a close call. But the Braves’ best minor-league pitchers are closer to the majors than the Phillies’ top youngsters, which means this arms race should tighten soon.
Lots of teams are doing the rebuild thing. None has lately done it better than the Braves. Philly was the flavor of the month in March, and it had a nice April, at least when playing teams other than the Braves. Still, I doubt even the Philadelphia brass would trade organizations with this one. Not many clubs have an Acuna or an Albies. The Braves have both.