Let’s not mince words: The Braves’ moment is now

Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker (43) stands for the national anthem with his players and coaches before a spring training game Monday, March 22, 2021, against the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers, Fla. (John Bazemore/AP)
Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker (43) stands for the national anthem with his players and coaches before a spring training game Monday, March 22, 2021, against the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers, Fla. (John Bazemore/AP)

Credit: John Bazemore

Credit: John Bazemore

The worst you can say of these born-again Braves is that they haven’t yet reached the World Series, though that seems a matter of time. (Also of luck, the postseason being famously fickle, but let’s not go into that today.) They’ve won the National League East three years running. They came within a game of the Fall Classic last year, a giddy postseason rise coming barely six weeks after their rotation fell apart. There aren’t many rosters you’d trade for this one. There aren’t many MLB futures that seem so bright.

ExploreProjecting Braves’ 2021 opening-day roster

About here, I’d normally say something like “Pardon me for being a contrarian” and proceed to pick nits, but the Braves don’t have many. If one of the young pitchers who impressed last October impresses less in April and May, they’ve got Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly for elder-statesmanlike cover. Their lack of an everyday third baseman is less pressing with the re-signing of Marcell Ozuna, whose presence allows Austin Riley not to concern himself with left field. They lost some bullpen arms — every team does — but the key ones, Chris Martin and Will Smith, remain.

Freddie Freeman is the reigning MVP. Ronald Acuna will win an MVP. If Mike Soroka can stay healthy, he’ll be in the running for a Cy Young soon, provided Max Fried doesn’t claim it first. Ozzie Albies and Travis d’Arnaud would be centerpieces on some teams. Here, they’re gifted members of a glittering supporting cast. Oh, and there’s Cristian Pache, who drove in runs over four consecutive postseason games at age 21.

Braves center fielder Cristian Pache makes a running catch on a fly ball by Minnesota Twins' Josh Donaldson in the fifth inning Monday, March 22, 2021, in Fort Myers, Fla. (John Bazemore/AP)
Braves center fielder Cristian Pache makes a running catch on a fly ball by Minnesota Twins' Josh Donaldson in the fifth inning Monday, March 22, 2021, in Fort Myers, Fla. (John Bazemore/AP)

Credit: AP Photo/John Bazemore

Credit: AP Photo/John Bazemore

Are the Braves the Dodgers? Not quite, but that’s OK. It took L.A. seven postseason runs before they won the World Series, and the Dodgers are so rich in talent — they’ve added Trevor Bauer for $102 million and welcomed David Price back from his opt-out year — that anything short of another World Series win will be an abject failure. Being viewed as the National League’s second-best team isn’t a bad thing: The Braves can chug right with the pressure that falls on Dodger Blue.

And now you’re saying, “What about the Mets?” Well, the Mets landed shortstop Francisco Lindor, who’s great. The Mets have also finished an aggregate 33 games behind the Braves over the past three seasons, and no player in baseball history has ever had a one-year WAR of 33.0. (In the 20th and 21st Centuries, the high is 16.5 – Walter Johnson in 1913.) The Mets have a new owner, a new general manager — actually, an acting GM, the Mets having already fired Jared Porter for sending explicit texts to a female reporter — and a new manager. They’re still the Mets, though. They’ll find a way to mess up.

Credit: Atlanta Braves

As the free agent and Braves general manager discuss new four-year deal, the outfielder asks why the team waited so long to sign him.

Credit: Atlanta Braves

The Braves’ days of messing up are history. Alex Anthopoulos inherited the farm system John Coppolella rebuilt and has come very close to maximizing those assets. The re-upping of Ozuna for four years proved that these Braves realize their moment is at hand. Things can and will go wrong – this is baseball; things always do – but it’s hard to imagine any scenario that has this team missing the playoffs.

These players like one another. These players like and respect their manager. They endured a COVID-delayed-and-shortened season. They know how close they came last fall.

The Braves shocked us by getting so good in 2018. They got better in 2019. They had a chance to collapse last September, but they won two playoff series and led a third 3-1. They didn’t close the sale, but the postseason work done by Fried, Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson and Huascar Ynoa proved that the ballyhooed-rebuild-around-pitching hadn’t been false advertising. Oh, and remember: Soroka didn’t throw a pitch in October 2020.

I’ve been here since 1984. I’ve seen enough Atlanta teams disappoint that fearing the worst has become second nature. These Braves are good enough to make a glass-half-empty guy a true believer. I’m not afraid of jinxing the Braves. They’re too good to jinx. There’s your save-and-paste sentence to hit me with if this team flops. It won’t flop.

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