USA TODAY Sports Weekly
Keys to victory
Run your own race: The NL East goes through Atlanta. Last year’s NLDS exit was disappointing, but Atlanta overcame a 10-game deficit, going on a 78-34 run after June 1 to win its fifth consecutive division title. But again, the Braves head into the new season somewhat overlooked due to the Mets and Phillies spending big. This battle-tested Atlanta team may be better than last year’s and there’s no reason for Brian Snitker’s players to have any self-doubt until they’re mathematically eliminated.
Let Grissom cook: Filling in for Ozzie Albies at second base, Vaughn Grissom impressed as a rookie last season. With Dansby Swanson gone, the 22-year old is Atlanta’s presumed starting shortstop. There will be growing pains with any young player – Grissom hit .174 in his last 15 games after a blistering start – but he was a .315 career hitter in the minors and should get the benefit of the doubt even if he starts the season slowly.
The young starters: Spencer Strider finished runner-up to Michael
Harris II in Rookie of the Year voting and the righthander’s dominance is one of the big reasons Atlanta won the division. This year, another rookie could start in the rotation with Jared Shuster and Dylan Dodd competing for the fifth starter spot. Shuster is considered Atlanta’s top prospect and has impressed in spring training. “If you’re ready, you’re ready,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said about Shuster. Dodd, also a lefty, gave up only one run with 15 strikeouts in his first 13 innings of the spring.