Still the team to beat in the National League East


With spring training opening next week, we take a four-part look at the Phillies' National League East rivals, what they did this offseason and where they might be going in 2021.

Today: Atlanta Braves

Quick look back

The Braves survived several injuries in their starting rotation, went on to win their third straight NL East title and came just 12 outs from beating the Dodgers in the NLCS and advancing to the World Series in 2020.

Offense was Atlanta's calling card. Led by NL MVP Freddie Freeman, the Braves led the league with an .832 OPS and scored 5.8 runs per game, second-most in the league. Freeman ranked second in the NL with a 1.102 OPS and Marcell Ozuna was third at 1.067.

Notable departures

In a cost-cutting move, the Braves non-tendered outfielder/DH Adam Duvall. Fernando Tatis Jr. and Ozuna were the only National Leaguers with more homers than Duvall's 16 in 2020.

Closer Mark Melancon remains a free agent. A reunion with him is not out of the question.

The Braves will miss right-handed setup men Darren O'Day and Shane Greene. O'Day was pursued by the Phillies and ended up signing with the Yankees. Greene remains a free agent. He joined the club from Detroit in a July 2019 trade and led the team in appearances (55) and holds (19) during his time in Atlanta. 

The Braves still have lefties A.J. Minter and Will Smith in the bullpen.

Notable newcomers

The Braves' rotation features a number of outstanding young talents in Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson and Max Fried. Soroka suffered a torn Achilles last season but should be ready to go in late May. The club added veteran stability to their rotation by spending $26 million on Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly, both former Phillies. Morton could be a huge difference-maker with his veteran presence and performance. He's 47-18 with a 3.34 ERA, a 1.16 WHIP and 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings in 97 starts over the last four seasons. He's also thrown the last pitch in the World Series and that big-picture experience should help a team looking to win.

Key offseason move

Re-signing Ozuna to a four-year, $64 million deal was huge. The Braves lost some offense when they let Duvall go, but they should still have enough with Ozuna, Freeman and the dazzling Ronald Acuna Jr. leading the way.

Freeman, one of the most consistent producers in the game, will be a free agent after the season and could be poised for another big season — and pay day.

Phillies tie

Months after being released by the Mets, catcher Travis d'Arnaud signed a two-year, $16-million deal with the Braves before the 2020 season and went on to have the best season of his career, hitting .321 with nine homers, 34 RBIs and a .919 OPS in 44 games. D'Arnaud was selected by the Phillies (37th overall) in 2007 and traded to Toronto in December 2009 as part of the package for Roy Halladay.

There's also this guy.

2021 outlook

The Braves won three of the first four games of the 2020 NLCS and held a 3-2 lead in the sixth inning of Game 7. The Dodgers tied the game and went ahead on homers by Kiké Hernandez and Cody Bellinger, advanced to the World Series and won it all for the first time since 1988. 

If the Braves' bullpen could only have protected that lead ...

The Braves are still in win-now mode. They are the team to beat in the NL East and have bigger aspirations than that.

"We have a World Series caliber club," general manager Alex Anthopoulos told reporters during a news conference to announce Ozuna's re-signing last week.

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