Opinion: The Atlanta Braves are back!

Photo provided by Wikimedia Commons.

Photo provided by Wikimedia Commons.

After years of rebuilding a team known for dominance, the Atlanta Braves have surprised many as they are in the thick of the playoff race as the 2018 Major League Baseball season enters the homestretch.

So did the rebuild work? Did these young players become the stars they were viewed as when they were acquired for all those veterans?

First, let’s look at the lineup.

Everyone already knows that Freddie Freeman is the face that the franchise builds around. He has not slowed down as he is having another MVP-caliber year at the plate.

Ronald Acuña Jr. is as good as advertised. Buoyed by a strong hitting performance in August, he is a hot pick for the National League’s Rookie of the Year Award.

The real surprise is Ozzie Albies who is having an excellent breakout season in only his first full year of play, especially after his wingman at short, Dansby Swanson, sagged in production last season. Albies has hit 22 home runs, batted in 64 runs, and has a batting average of .273, according to MLB.com.

There are also the two pieces picked up from Arizona in 2015, Swanson and outfielder Ender Inciarte.

Inciarte’s defense has been as good as advertised making spectacular inning-ending catches, and keeping his team afloat. Swanson, while his contact at the plate could be a little better, has improved his power with a career-best 14 home runs, according to MLB.com.

The most notable improvements are found in the pitching staff, which, during the rebuild, was among the worst in the game, especially in the bullpen.

How are they now? Their bullpen has certainly improved with pitchers like Jesse Biddle, Dan Winkler, A.J. Minter, Shane Carle and closer Arodys Vizcaino winning more games than losing and holding Earned Run Averages (ERAs) under four.

The rotation is also solid buoyed by veterans Anibal Sanchez and Julio Teheran. What’s really worth noting is breakout seasons from Mike Foltynewicz (10-9, 2.80, according to MLB.com) and Sean Newcomb (11-8, 3.92, according to MLB.com).

Foltynewicz’s effort was enough to earn him his first All-Star bid while Newcomb was really strong in May and June. Despite struggling recently, he came one strike away from no-hitting a powerful LA Dodger lineup on July 29.

Even better is that the Braves are helping their deadline purchases. Specifically, Brad Brach and Kevin Gausman have suffered tremendously in a nightmarish season with the Orioles. Once traded, they turned it around.

Overall, things are going according to plan as the Braves enter the long haul of September, where the pennant races amp up. They are in a tight race with the Phillies for the NL East as well as having to keep up with as many as five teams for a Wild Card.

The fact that the Braves are still alive at this point brings relief to a hardcore fan base that has endured three consecutive 90-loss seasons.

Even if they don’t make the playoffs, the future is very bright for this team. Having a winning record at the end of the season shows that this team is taking the next step and is knocking on the door of a return to prominence of just a few years ago.

What’s better about this team is that with the young talent they have and how they can improve, the Braves will be a legitimate threat in the NL East once again. Fans will continue to flock to Cobb County and be entertained nightly by the Braves.

The Braves still have a whopping nine prospects in the Top 100 list on MLB.com’s Prospect Watch. Even if they grow comfortable with what they have now, these prospects might just turn into trade chips for an All-Star at the deadline.

Get the tomahawks out. It’s gonna be a fun ride.