Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

You have to admire how the Atlanta Braves do business, especially with the players they developed themselves.

They pick the players they like, they pay the players they like, and then pat them on the back before sending them on the field to win. Atlanta’s lineup is practically a modern Murderers’ Row. From reigning National League MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. to the best-third-baseman-you’ve-never-heard-of Austin Riley, the Braves can play. If the vintage Bobby Cox Bravos had a lineup that could mash home runs from all nine spots, it would be this one.

And in 2024, the Atlanta Braves should be playing with a chip on their collective shoulder. Despite winning an MLB-best 104 regular season games and leading in all major offensive categories, the Braves hit the golf course early. Their NL East rival Philadelphia Phillies made relatively short work of them in the NLDS, winning the series in four games.

Atlanta seems determined to change the story this season. Team president and general manager Alex Anthopoulos has revamped the pitching staff. There will be no revamping, retooling, or rebuilding. The Braves are ready to run it back, then slug it forward.

Greatest Addition: Chris Sale. At long last, Chris Sale has put his plethora of pitching injures behind him and looks effective again. The veteran lefty made 20 starts for the Red Sox last year and pitched to a 4.30 ERA with a respectable 3.81 FIP. He didn’t change his pitch selection much and got a little lucky, but had clearly spent his latest injury recovery learning to pitch sans velocity.

The Braves acquired Sale from Boston for infielder Vaughn Grissom and gave him a two-year, $38 million extension almost immediately. He should slot in as the No. 3 starter, right behind Spencer Strider and Max Fried. Health will be key for Sale’s success but again, the injury tsunami appears to have moved on from him. If he can throw at least 130 innings, the Braves win the trade.

Greatest Loss: Michael Soroka. At one point, this Canadian righty looked like a future Braves pitching great. He went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 2019 and finished second behind the Mets’ Pete Alonso in NL Rookie of the Year voting. Not bad for someone who, at 21, became the Braves’ youngest ever Opening Day starter.

Then, the wheels literally fell off. Soroka tore his Achilles tendon in the shortened 2020 season and made only three starts. He suffered a setback while rehabbing and eventually missed all of 2021 after tearing it again. His elbow then flared up while he was rehabbing for 2022, and he posted an ERA close to 7 in just seven games (six starts) last year.

Atlanta decided to cut their losses and sent Soroka to the White Sox in a deal for veteran reliever Aaron Bummer. He’s since made three spring training starts with Chicago and looked like his old self, owning a 2.00 ERA with 12 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9). He could be in for a comeback season if he decreases his walks (four in nine spring innings), and the Braves’ slowly aging rotation will miss him.

Greatest Strength: Core under Contract. I’m not sure what’s better. The fact that the Atlanta Braves field so much talent on one team, or that ownership recognizes that and pays the right players accordingly. Even if it’s to team-friendly deals, that players agree to them because Atlanta is that strong a team. For example, Acuña just won an MVP trophy after batting .337 with 41 home runs and an MLB-leading 73 stolen bases, and he isn’t even the highest-paid player on the team.

That honor goes to first baseman Matt Olson, who led MLB with 54 homers and 139 RBI last year. He’ll earn $22 million in 2024 in Year 3 of an eight-year, $168 million contract. Acuña is only earning $17 million in Year 6 of an eight-year, $100 million deal, and he’s still only 26 years old!

Durable power-hitting third baseman Austin Riley has a ten-year deal. Catcher Sean Murphy got a $73 million extension moments after being traded from Oakland before last season. These Atlanta Braves don’t just pay, they pay to win.

Greatest Weakness: Bullpen. Aside from closer Raisel Iglesias, the Braves’ relief pitching leaves something sorely lacking. Atlanta’s bullpen ranked 11th with a 3.81 ERA in 2023 and is seriously lacking in depth in 2024. A.J. Minter and Joe Jimenez are back, and Bummer can get both lefties and righties out without issue.

The Braves are lucky because their lineup is deep enough that most pitching concerns can go on the back burner. The bullpen isn’t such a ticking time bomb that it must be fixed in 24 hours or less. However, if the Braves want a deep playoff run, they need to make fixing the bullpen a priority.

Will the Braves blast their way to the NL East crown again? Only injuries can keep the Braves out of first place at this point. The Phillies have a great lineup headlined by Bryce Harper, but still not as much power as Atlanta. And yet, it was Philadelphia’s better pitching that saw the Braves go home early.

Therein lies the key to Atlanta winning 100 or more games again and getting back to the World Series. That pitching staff is pining for some support, especially out of the bullpen. The Braves’ offense may win them a lot of games, but only improving their pitching will win them championships.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.