(Photo Credit: REUTERS/BRAD PENNER)
If there's one team no one expected to rise to the top of its division this year, it was the Atlanta Braves. Even though the team has a lot of great young talent and a bright future, but a run at the playoffs seemed out of reach until a year or two down the road.
Instead, the Braves' prospects are making some noise on the MLB level and Atlanta is now in first place following last night's 7-0 defeat of the New York Mets. Not only that, the Braves have won six of their last seven and can go for a clean sweep of the Mets this afternoon.
Granted, it's still early and Atlanta could just be enjoying a hot streak right now but given the talent on the roster clicking the way it is, it's hard to not get excited about the Braves getting back to being what they were in the 1990's: an unstoppable, balanced dynasty that not only beats opposing teams in multiple ways, but is a lock for the postseason year after year.
An excellent young core
The Braves are a textbook case of why utilizing the minor league system is essential for a team to succeed in baseball today. Using a balance of veterans like Brandon McCarthy and Nick Markakis combined with excellent youngsters in Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta is 18-11 and has a run scoring differential of +46. The Braves also rank third in MLB with 161 runs scored and seventh with a staff ERA of 3.61, all thanks to this excellent youth.
Leading the way is the 21-year-old Albies, the second baseman who has been near unstoppable at the plate in 2018. Albies is hitting .278 with nine home runs and 20 RBI and is in a four-way tie for second in MLB with 12 doubles. His isolated power (ISO) is at a remarkable .325 and Albies is showing no signs of slowing down. He had 22 extra base hits in April, one shy of the record set by Jermaine Dye back in 2000. If he can get his strikeout rate down from 19.7% and improve his defense at second base (-2.3 UZR), this could be the start of a phenomenal breakout campaign.