On March 28, I predicted a final record of 77-85 for the 2018 Atlanta Braves.
On May 2, I feel very silly... in a beautiful way.
Granted, most of our writers were in the same range and, well, there was reason to be skeptical. After all, the 2017 team won 72 games and that was a three-year apex after two sub-70 win campaigns. Even with the built-in optimism stemming from an infusion of youth, a 77-win projection felt reasonable and, if anything, it was higher than the national consensus about the Braves.
Now, it feels low and we were all wrong. Well, at least most of us.
On the whole, the lights-out start doesn’t feel fluky. The Braves own a 17-11 record and, while that may have seemed insane given the tough early schedule, Atlanta’s +39 run differential tells a different story and the team’s pythagorean win expectancy actually displays an 18-10 mark.
Ronald Acuna is everything we hoped he would be in the early going. Dansby Swanson is alive again. Kurt Suzuki is prime Johnny Bench. Nick Markakis is enjoying (easily) his best season in a Braves uniform. Freddie Freeman is, well, Freddie Freeman. And, of course, Ozzie Albies is completely and utterly out of his mind.
A quick glance at a few projection systems serves as a reminder that not everyone is fully buying in to the Braves as a playoff contender and it is tough to cast blame for that opinion. Watching a full month of the 2018 Braves can sway perception, though, and that is never more evident than in my forever-skeptical mindset surrounding this franchise and even this year’s squad.
Mike Soroka’s fantastic arrival may have been what put me over the edge, as the youth movement is (finally) making its way to the pitching staff as well. If there is a point of skepticism toward this hot start (aside from some inevitable offensive regression), it comes from the pitching staff, where Julio Teheran is an unknown, Brandon McCarthy has a lengthy injury history and the bullpen (on the whole) has been spotty.
Still, Soroka’s arrival and optimistic future projection brings life and he isn’t the only (super) young arm that could land in Atlanta in the next few months. I’m not going to flat-out predict a division title or even a playoff appearance but, sometimes, it is fun to allow a rosy outlook to overcome skepticism and I’m bringing my guard down with the 2018 Atlanta Braves.
That may prove to be a foolish decision but I’d believe just about anything and that is fun.