USA TODAY Sports Weekly

Keys to victory

- – Jesse Yomtov

Run your own race: The NL East goes through Atlanta. Last year’s NLDS exit was disappoint­ing, but Atlanta overcame a 10-game deficit, going on a 78-34 run after June 1 to win its fifth 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 benefit of the doubt even if he starts the season slowly.

The young starters: Spencer Strider finished 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 fifth 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 first 13 innings of the spring.

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