Five reasons the Braves can win it all

Atlanta Braves' right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. celebrates after hitting a home run on September 26, 2023, in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Atlanta Braves' right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. celebrates after hitting a home run on September 26, 2023, in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The Braves are heavy betting favorites to win the franchise’s third World Series title of the Atlanta era. That doesn’t mean they’ll do it, of course. The Braves lost to the Phillies as big favorites in last year’s National League Division Series after winning 101 games.

But these Braves are worthy of their status as the team to beat in October. They’ll start their title bid with a rematch against the Phillies in Game 1 of the NLDS on Saturday. Here are five reasons why the Braves can win it all:

1. They have Ronald Acuña Jr.

Acuña is expected to win the NL MVP award. There’s been a lot of talk about his many accomplishments, most of all his creation of the 40-homer, 70-steal club. But I’m most impressed by Acuña generating nearly as many walks (80) as strikeouts (84) this season. That’s rare for a player with Acuña’s power. Only Dodgers slugger Mookie Betts was on that level this season.

Position players usually don’t dominate games, but hardly any player has Acuña’s skill set. At the plate he hits for power, makes great contact and rarely swings at pitches outside of the zone. Acuña is electric on the base paths and has a big arm in the outfield. Acuña already has a good postseason track record (.863 on-base plus slugging in 25 games) and now he’s better than ever.

2. They bash the ball like no other team

The Braves hit 307 home runs this season, matching the 2019 Twins for the most in MLB history. The big boppers are up and down the lineup. The Braves are the first MLB team with four players to hit 35 homers or more. They are the franchise’s first team with 10 players to homer at least 10 times.

All that power puts pressure on opposing pitchers to not make mistakes. Base runners add to the stress. And the Braves don’t just hit homers, they crush them. They hit 24 home runs that traveled at least 450 feet, the most of the Statcast era (since 2015). Massive homers aren’t worth more runs, but they can demoralize pitchers.

3. They put pressure on opponents from start to finish

The Braves scored 146 runs in the first inning this season. That’s the most runs scored by any MLB team in any inning this season. Leadoff hitter Acuña is a big reason for the early offense. He had a ridiculous .451 on-base percentage in the first inning. It must be deflating for Braves opponents to see their first hitter of the game reach base so often.

Braves pitchers know they are set up for a win if they do their part early. The Braves were 73-25 when they scored first. Opponents can’t get comfortable if they get a sizeable lead on the Braves. They were 12-42 in games when they faced a deficit of three runs or more (only the Reds and Rangers were better). The Braves are the only team in MLB that’s great at both getting opponents down early and coming back from steep deficits.

4. They have a deep roster of power pitchers

The only sure way for pitchers to get outs is to not allow batters to put balls in play. Batters can get hits with weak contact and defenders can botch routine plays. The Braves need to worry about unlucky outcomes less than most any team because they’ve got so many high-strikeout pitchers.

Braves right-hander Spencer Strider led the league in strikeout percentage (36.8%) this season. Charlie Morton ranked 17th. Lefty Max Fried would have been tied for 16th if he had enough innings to qualify for the leaderboard. There are four high-strikeout relievers in the bullpen: A.J. Minter, Kirby Yates, Joe Jiménez and closer Raisel Iglesias. The Braves have a lot of pitchers who can take some luck out of the equation by sitting down hitters.

5. They have home-field advantage all postseason

The Braves opened Truist Park in 2017. At first, it seemed as if the ghosts of crushing home October losses followed them from Turner Field. The Dodgers clinched the 2018 NLDS at Truist. The Cardinals did the same thing in 2019 with a nightmarish 10-run first inning. After that, it may not have been such a bad thing Braves that the pandemic caused the 2020 postseason games to be played at the Rangers ballpark.

But the Braves created great memories at their home ballpark during their run to the 2021 World Series title. They eliminated the Brewers from the NLDS at Truist. They finally vanquished the Dodgers by winning Game 6 of the NLCS at home. And they won two of three Series games there against the Astros. The Braves can have plenty of opportunities to make Truist Park magical in October again.

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