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Braves 2020 spring training preview

Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla. — Doug Fernandes Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla.

Feb. 14-- Feb. 14--2019 IN REVIEW

After losing 90-plus games from 2015-17 the Braves began turning it around with a 90-72 finish in '18, good for first place in the NL East, and followed that up with a 97-65 mark last year, the franchise's most victories since 2003. Several players had fine individual seasons, led by 22-year-old Ronald Acuna Jr., who hit 41 home runs and led the NL in plate appearances (715), runs (127) and stolen bases (37). First baseman Freddie Freeman hit 38 homers and knocked in 121.

2020 PREVIEW

Atlanta will have to make up for Josh Donaldson, who signed with the Twins after hitting 37 homers and knocking in 94 runs for the Braves last season. And they will have to find someone to replace the 11 victories of starter Julio Tehran, who departed via free agency. The Braves finished four games in front of second-place Washington. Expect another battle this season between the two teams.

5 QUESTIONS

Q: Who will comprise the Braves' starting rotation?

A: The top spot belongs to Max Fried, the 26-year-old left-hander who went 17-6 last season after going 2-5 his first two seasons in Atlanta. He will be followed by right-hander Mike Soroka, the Braves' first-round pick in '15, who went 13-4 in 29 starts. In December the team signed 35-year-old Cole Hamels, 7-7 in 27 starts last season from the Cubs. After those three are Mike Foltynewicz, an eight-game winner last year after winning 23 in '17 and '18, and possibly Kyle Wright, the team's first-round pick in '17, who started four games for the Braves last season.

Q: How will they compensate for the loss of Josh Donaldson's power and who will play third base?

A: The 34-year-old made the most of his one year in Atlanta. After playing in just 52 games for two teams in 2018, Donaldson responded by playing in 155 games for the Braves, hitting 37 homers and knocking in 94. It earned him a four-year, $92 million free-agent contract from the Twins. In response the Braves signed outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who hit 29 homers for the Cardinals last season. To man third Atlanta will likely turn to Johan Camargo, who played in 98 games last season, hitting .233.

Q: Who is this Ronald Acuna Jr?

A: The 22-year-old is one of the game's most dynamic players. As a rookie in 2018 he hit 26 home runs, stole 16 bases and hit .293, making the NL All-Star team, winning the Rookie of the Year and Silver Slugger awards. Last season he followed up by hitting 41 homers, driving in 101 and stealing 37 bases. Last year Acuna signed an eight-year deal worth $100 million. He'll likely play right field, with Einder Inciarte in center and Ozuna in left, leaving Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall in back-up roles.

Q: With the retirement of Brian McCann, who will be the Braves' starting catcher?

A: The 35-year-old retired after appearing in 85 games last season for the Braves. Tyler Flowers also appeared in 85 games, but in December the team signed Travis d'Arnaud to a two-year contract worth $16 million. The 30-year-old appeared in 92 games last season for the Rays, hitting 16 homers and driving in 67.

Q: How does the Braves' bullpen shake out?

A: They got 18 saves last season from right-hander Luke Jackson, who had registered one in four previous MLB seasons. And during last year they acquired Mark Melancon, Shane Greene and Chris Martin. The team also re-signed in December former Oriole Darren O'Day and signed free agent right-hander Will Smith, who had three seasons with the Giants with ERAs below 3.00.

5 BIG GAMES AT COOLTODAY PARK

Saturday, Feb. 22 vs. Baltimore Orioles, 1:05 p.m. The Braves open up their first full season at CoolToday Park by hosting Brandon Hyde's Orioles. The Orioles also close the Braves' home schedule with a game on March 14.

Friday, Feb. 28 vs. New York Yankees, 1:05 p.m. A split-squad Yankees team makes its only spring visit to North Port.

Monday, March 2 vs. Philadelphia Phillies, 6:05 p.m. The team which finished 16 games behind the Braves in the NL East makes its only appearance at CoolToday in the first of three home games to start at 6:05 p.m.

Tuesday, March 3 vs. Tampa Bay Rays, 1:05 p.m. Kevin Cash's team makes the short drive up I-75 for its first visit to CoolToday. The Rays return on March 7 for a game.

Friday, March 6 vs. Boston Red Sox, 1:05 p.m. The franchise the Braves once shared Boston with, the Red Sox visit North Port without David Price and Mookie Betts but with interim manager Ron Roenicke.

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