I've been a big believer in the Atlanta Braves when it comes to their rebuild and the future of the franchise, and it looked like 2019 and 2020 were going to be the big years to watch.
Early signs suggest they might be a season ahead of schedule, folks.
The Braves currently hold a 14-11 record and are just 2.5 games behind the New York Mets in the NL East. They are the top offense in the National League, leading the league in runs (137), hits (240), doubles (60), batting average (.268), slugging percentage (.432) and OPS (.771), and while their bullpen has had their hiccups in the early going, the starting rotation has been up to par.
Here are five reasons to believe the surprising 2018 Atlanta Braves are better than advertised.
5. Ronald Acuña Jr.
We've only seen three games in the Ronald Acuña Jr. era, but he's made an immediate impact. He already has his first home run of his career under his belt, as well as his first three-hit game. Acuna's youth and energy will rub off on his teammates, and his pure talent takes this team to another level.
4. Steady Starting Pitching
Atlanta's pitching staff has been middle-of-the-road as a unit, ranking ninth in the NL in ERA (3.85). However, in the early going their rotation has been rock-solid, as veterans Julio Teheran and Brandon McCarthy have stabilized things. Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb have shown signs of busting out with career years, but it all comes down to consistency for those two.
Their starting unit has done the job well, and they have more young, attractive arms that could find themselves called up to Atlanta as we ahead into the summer, including Luiz Gohara, Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard.
3. Deep Lineup
Especially with Acuña starting the season in the minors, the Braves' lineup looked top-heavy. However, they've scored the most runs in the NL and have proven to possess a deep bench. The likes of Ryan Flaherty and Preston Tucker have been pleasant surprises, and the eventual call-up of veteran slugger Jose Bautista offers another exciting option.
2. Freddie Freeman
Acuña and Ozzie Albies are getting a lot of well-deserved attention, but we can't forget about Freddie Freeman, who is quietly putting together an MVP-caliber season, slashing .326/.455/.584 with four home runs and 17 RBI. He's the face of the franchise, and is the stalwart in the middle of their order. This offense goes as Freeman goes.
1. Young Offensive Core
The biggest reason why there should be optimism about this current Braves team is the fact it's a young offensive core helping Freeman lead the way. Albies leads MLB with extra-base hits (20), and his up-the-middle partner Dansby Swanson has finally found his hitting stroke, putting up a .303/.349/.465 line so far this year. And now you have Acuña in the mix, making this a very potent threesome in the Braves lineup to go with Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis and Ender Inciarte.