For the third year in a row, the Atlanta Braves won the National League East. And they’ve done everything as an organization that the Philadelphia Phillies should have done to this point. From developing starting pitching & offense from the ground up to making key free agent acquisitions, they check all the boxes the Phillies have missed dating back to early 2019.
- Offensive Prospects
The Braves have had a number of exciting young hitters make their debuts over the past few years. Ronald Acuna Jr. made his debut in 2018 and has established himself as one of the best players in Major League Baseball, winning two Silver Sluggers and a Rookie of the Year Award. Ozzie Albies made his debut in 2017 and has been a key piece to their success, with an All-Star appearance and one Silver Slugger so far in his career. More recent call-ups like Austin Riley (2019) & Cristian Pache (2020) haven’t made as big of an impact on the club yet. Although, Riley did hit 18 home runs for Atlanta in 80 games in 2019. But, we’ll see what he can do in a full season. Pache has only had 4 plate appearances so far in the big leagues, but he’s one of the more highly-touted young players. According to MLB.com, Pache has been chosen by baseball executives as the best defensive prospect two years in a row, and his offense has come along over the past couple of years.
The Phillies haven’t nearly mirrored what the Braves have done with offensive prospects. Alec Bohm has been the lone diamond in the rough, finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2020. Besides Bohm, it’s been mediocre at best. Adam Hasely has been a solid player, but not nearly proving that he was a top 10 pick in the 2017 MLB draft. Scott Kingery has not remotely lived up to the 6-year, 24 million dollar contract he signed in 2018. And even though he only played in 8 games this past year, Mickey Moniak hasn’t shown that he’s ready for The Show.
The Braves have the perfect mesh of the young players/prospects to go along with veterans Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis, and Ender Inciarte.
The Phillies have players in their prime like Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto (fans hope), but they don’t have any young, promising players that are ready to make an impact.
2. Starting Pitching
It seems that the Braves have had quite a few starting pitchers make a name for themselves in the past few years. In 2018 it was Mike Foltynewicz, who sported a 2.85 ERA and struckout just over 200 batters, and Sean Newcomb, who had a 3.90 ERA in 30 starts. In 2019, rookie Mike Soroka had a 2.68 ERA, finishing sixth in Cy Young voting and second in Rookie of the Year voting. Also during that year, Atlanta signed Dallas Kuechel, who helped them obtain a second-straight division title. And in 2020, it was all about Max Fried, sprinkled in with Ian Anderson. Even though it was a shortened season, Fried performed in the regular season (2.25 ERA), as well as the postseason (2.84 ERA). Fried looks to have leapfrogged as the Ace of the Braves staff. Ian Anderson followed suit and had a 1.95 ERA in 6 starts in the regular season to go along with a 2.57 ERA to play an important part in the Braves’ run to the NLCS.
One thing is for sure. The Phillies have an ace in Aaron Nola. Nola proved that in 2018 when he finished third in Cy Young voting and had a 2.37 ERA. He hasn’t been quite as dominant in the past two years, but he’s still their ace. Zach Wheeler seems to be a perfect fit as the number two spot in the rotation. But besides Nola & Wheeler, what do the Phillies have? Zach Eflin has shown promise at times since 2018, but he’s been inconsistent. Vince Velasquez has shown he has above average strikeout stuff, but he can barely get through four innings without throwing 100 pitches, and his ERA has hovered around 5.00 every year since 2017. Jake Arrieta has struggled to stay healthy since the Phillies signed him in 2018 and he hasn’t been close to the Cy Young pitcher he was for the Cubs in 2015.
And on top of all that, the Phillies lost their treasured young hurler, Sixto Sanchez, in a trade to the Florida Marlins for J.T. Realmuto. Sanchez looked great for Miami in his first year in the Majors, drawing comparisons to Pedro Martinez. Philadelphia still has Spencer Howard, who didn’t look great in his first year, but he only made six starts and the team and fans are still high on his potential. There is also Adonis Medina, who only made one start this year for the Phillies, but he hasn’t had the prettiest numbers in the Minor Leagues.
Solid starting pitching is just another area that the Phillies have just missed and the Braves have shown promise for years to come with their young starters.
3. Free Agent Signings
Yes, you can sign big name free agents. The Phillies did. They signed the biggest name on the market in the winter of 2019, which was Bryce Harper. But, you can also sign free agents, regardless of how much weight their names hold, to just make your team flat out, better. The Braves have done that over the past few seasons, maybe taking some risks but seeing value in players that other teams, like the Phillies, may not. In 2019, the Braves took a chance on Josh Donaldson, signing him for a 1-year 23 million dollar deal. Donaldson, 2015 AL MVP, was coming off of a few shoulder and calf injuries that affected his 2017 & 2018 seasons, but he came in for the Braves and played like an MVP. He led the Braves in WAR (6.0) and his power numbers looked like the Donaldson that was mashing in Toronto (37 HR, 94 RBI). That year the Phillies had Maikel Franco, who started hot, but fizzled out and hit just .234 with a .297 OBP. If the Phillies could have given Donaldson that same one-year deal, maybe a few million more, they might have been in the playoffs in 2019. In 2020, the Braves made multiple moves that showed their front office knows what they’re doing. They signed Marcell Ozuna (1-year, 18 million) Travis D’Arnaud (2-year, 16 mil), and Will Smith(3-year, 40 mil). Marcell Ozuna finished this season leading the National League in Home Runs, RBI’s and Total Bases. Travis d’Arnaud was one of the best offensive catchers in baseball (.321/.386/.533). And Will Smith wasn’t the All-Star he was in ‘19 for the Giants, but he easily would have helped a terrible Phillies bullpen. To start this offseason, it’s been nothing new. The Braves signed RHP Charlie Morton to a one-year 15 million dollar deal, and this will add to the Braves solid pitching staff. The Phillies need other starters to compliment Nola & Wheeler. It would have made sense to bring Morton to Philly on a short-term deal, considering Morton is 37 but he’s become an All-Star pitcher since he joined the Astros in 2017.
My point is that the Braves seem to be a step ahead of everybody in the NL East, especially the Phillies.
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