March 13, 2021
BY BUCK BELUE
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – By now, you’ve all seen it out there in Braves Country. There are doubters, but that’s okay. We’ve delt with this before. No big deal. These preseason predictions don’t mean anything.
However, experts are NOT picking our Atlanta Braves to win the National League East Division. One outlet had the Braves finishing 4th. Fourth?
Look out for the new Mets, they say. The Nationals are a threat. So are the Phillies. One baseball reporter even tried to sell me on the Marlins. Talk about crazy.
I’ve got the Braves winning a 4th straight East title and advancing into the postseason, with a shot to win big. For that prediction to hold up, I need a few Braves players to step up with big seasons.
So, let’s take a look at the Braves MOST IMPORTANT PLAYERS this season.
At the top of my list is reliever WILL SMITH. It’s time to shine, as the closer. Can he do it? Sure he can. Will has already done it. Check his stat line in 2019, with the Giants: 34 saves in 38 save opportunities.
Smith hit a little bump in the road with his slider location last season but expect that to be corrected. That’s his primary weapon and I’m expecting that pitch to get him a lot of big outs this season.
Buck’s Prediction: Will Smith saves 30 games.
The Braves need a bounce-back season out of MIKE SOROKA too. He appears to be in the best shape of his life, coming off achilles rehab. Mike certainly knows how to pitch. I’m betting on Mike to regain his form.
Buck’s Prediction: Mike Soroka wins 15 games.
I’m staying invested in Austin Riley too. The Braves are finally presenting an opportunity for him to secure this 3B job. Austin has flashed an impressive skill set, since arriving in Atlanta. He can bomb it at the plate and handle the hot corner. Yes, there have been some growing pains, but Riley appears to be in a good place, at the plate this spring. I’m betting on Austin Riley.
Prediction: Austin Riley hits 25 bombs and settles in as the Braves 3rd baseman.
The Braves batting order is going to do some damage. Just check out the back of the baseball card for those Braves batting 1-5…Acuna, Albies, Freeman, Ozuna and d’Arnaud.
The starting pitching is deep with quality. At some point, I expect Alex Anthopoulos to add in the bullpen.
So, when Will Smith, Mike Soroka and Austin Riley deliver big seasons, the Braves will claim a 4th straight National League Division title and return to the postseason.
Bring on the Mets! And bring on the Nationals and Phillies! The Marlins? No, don’t worry about the fish.
Listen to more Braves talk on The Fan, 1-3 on the “Buck & Hut” Show. Also, check out my new podcast “Buck’s Beat” for more Braves insight. Guests so far have been Chipper Jones, Joe Simpson and Jeff Francoeur. John Smoltz joins me next.
You can find “Buck’s Beat” at thepodcastpark.com brought to you by Associated Credit Union or at podcast.apple.com New episodes drop every Wednesday morning.