The Atlanta Braves have fallen short of the World Series by one game. Their ousting came after they built a 3-1 lead in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Atlanta sports narrative aside, I'm sure Braves fans are hurting pretty good right now, but there is a bright side here. The Braves are in position to build on the 2020 season in a big way. The best is yet to come with this stacked franchise.
Remember, the ace of the staff heading into the season wasn't Max Fried. Ian Anderson hadn't even thrown a pitch in the majors prior to 2020. The ace was Mike Soroka. He tore his Achilles in his third start of the shortened season, and the Braves still made it to Game 7 of the NLCS against a juggernaut.
For next season, it's possible the Braves have a trio of aces in Soroka, Fried and Anderson. Behind them, we've seen flashes from youngsters like Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright (Game 3 of the NLCS notwithstanding). There are more young arms coming and it's possible the Braves add from outside the organization.
Regardless, we can be pretty sure the Braves are going to have a strong rotation next season.
How about the offense?
Well, in 2020, the Braves led the NL in hits, doubles, walks, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and total bases while sitting second in runs, home runs and average. It was a well-rounded and high-octane offense.
Veterans like Freddie Freeman (30 years old), Travis d'Arnaud (31) and Adam Duvall (31) aren't yet to the age where they should hit a drastic decline. Youngsters like Ronald Acuna (22, which is downright scary), Ozzie Albies (23) and Austin Riley (23) are young enough you could expect improvement. Dansby Swanson is right in the middle of his prime and had a bit of a breakout season with the bat. Prospects like Cristian Pache and William Contreras showed flashes of major promise and outfielder Drew Waters isn't far off.
This isn't just a bunch of names. Acuna is set to be a perennial MVP candidate. Freeman might win that award this season. D'Arnaud's breakout this season felt real and he's long been hyped to have this sort of upside. The ceilings for Albies and Riley are high. There's a ton of high-caliber talent here.
The one free agent of concern is Marcell Ozuna. He was such a big bat and so valuable for the Braves. They lost Josh Donaldson in the last round of free agency and replaced him, but that was with Ozuna due to Ozuna's market collapsing. Assuming the DH is here to stay in the NL -- I believe it is -- don't the Braves have to re-up with Ozuna?
That is the single biggest question the Braves have to answer on the position-playing side this offseason. Regardless of how it's answered, they have serious offensive firepower and aren't too shabby on defense, either.
That leaves the bullpen. It was one of the best in baseball in 2020. Set to hit free agency from the group are closer Mark Melancon, along with setup men Chris Martin and Shane Greene. Important relievers Darren O'Day (he'll have his club option of $4 million picked up), Tyler Matzek, A.J. Minter, Grant Dayton and more return, but do they really want to just let Melancon, Martin and Greene walk without adding at least one arm from outside the organization?
Regardless, the Braves are in very good shape here moving to the offseason. This can't be the finished product in the bullpen, but it's a great foundation.
The overall big picture is that the Braves are set up to be one of the best teams in baseball for the foreseeable future. They'll need to do some work at the margins this coming offseason -- and I really think locking up Ozuna is important -- but the core of a possible championship team in in place.
Perhaps looking at the state of the franchise will provide Braves fans with some solace right now. They took the best team in baseball to seven games without their ace and should only get better moving forward.