For years, the Dodgers have stood above everyone else. They are talented and deep. They scout, draft and develop well. They have the resources to win in free agency. They are perennial contenders.
The Braves might have closed that talent gap.
In terms of talent on paper, the defending champions appear to have a similar lineup – when Ronald Acuña Jr. returns – and a better bullpen. The Dodgers’ rotation, at its best, is better than the Braves’ group because Atlanta has question marks at the back end.
The Braves have Acuña, the Dodgers have Mookie Betts. The Braves have Olson, the Dodgers have Freeman. The Braves have Ozzie Albies, the Dodgers have Trea Turner. The Braves have Austin Riley, the Dodgers have Justin Turner.
As opening day nears, you’ll likely hear lots of debate centered on these two teams. They both look like they’re above the rest in the National League, with teams including the Mets, Brewers and Padres potentially in that next tier.
Something is clear: The Dodgers no longer appear to be clearly better than the Braves.
Plenty of rotation options
The cliché here: “It’s a good problem to have.”
The Braves may not have a proven starter at the back of their rotation, but they have plenty of options for those roles. They can afford to give guys different opportunities based on what they need at certain points of the season.
Snitker on Sunday said Kyle Wright and Huascar Ynoa are probably the front-runners for the Nos. 4 and 5 spots in the rotation. This makes sense. Ynoa had pitched well before breaking his hand last May, while Wright is a former No. 5 overall pick.
But don’t be surprised if many different names help out this club. Kyle Muller and Tucker Davidson could see time with the Braves, as could Touki Toussaint. Don’t forget about Spencer Strider.
Here’s why we could see many of these pitchers: The Braves begin the season with 14 games in 14 days and have considered using a six-man rotation. They could deploy openers throughout the season, if necessary. They might need a long reliever here and there.
There are many roles in which these pitchers could find themselves. But we could also see a few shuffle in and out of the rotation.
One potential concern
The Braves are talented. They have depth in the bullpen and potentially in the rotation, depending on how a few guys perform.
Their position player depth could be lacking. This is difficult to discern before the season begins, but it could become an issue.
As it stands, Orlando Arcia is the top backup infielder on the roster. Brock Holt, Phil Gosselin, Ryan Goins and Pat Valaika are all non-roster invitees in camp, and it seems likely that one will make the opening-day roster.
But will that be quality depth? We don’t yet know.
Last season, Eddie Rosario, Jorge Soler and Joc Pederson provided the Braves with tons of depth and flexibility off the bench. The final two aren’t here this year, which will be less of a problem when Acuña returns.
Let’s be clear here: The Braves look like a pretty complete roster. But Anthopoulos knows there’s always room to improve.
A leadership change
We knew that if the Braves lost Freeman, they would be thrust into a situation they haven’t experienced in over a decade.
He was their leader, and now he’s gone. The Braves are moving on without him.
Is this something that could break the clubhouse? Probably not. The Braves feel they have a strong group. It’s simply an adjustment.
In terms of who could take on a larger leadership role, Travis d’Arnaud and Dansby Swanson have been mentioned by teammates. But the Braves will lead by committee, which may not be so bad. It could allow them to evenly distribute those responsibilities among multiple players instead of one guy feeling that pressure.
The Braves are adjusting to life without Freeman, but they don’t anticipate it ruining their culture.
Where the Braves stand with injuries
Other than reliever Luke Jackson’s right forearm tightness, the Braves have remained relatively healthy throughout camp.
Acuña, who tore his ACL last summer, came in looking good and has since progressed. He could return in the first week of May.
As he showed in his most recent start, Charlie Morton looks healthy after fracturing his fibula in October. He shouldn’t have any restrictions to begin the season and could be the team’s opening-day starter.
Right-hander Kirby Yates, coming off his second Tommy John surgery, is expected to return in August. Same with righty Mike Soroka, who tore his Achilles tendon twice in the span of a year.