The Braves’ New Rivalry Could Provide Much-Needed Buzz

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Many interesting factors have surfaced following MLB’s announcement about the structure of the 2020 season. Among the plethora of changes, new interleague matchups will ensue. Many teams are pitted against natural rivals, while some are aligned with opponents that aren’t so commonplace.

One of the most enticing rivalries in 2020 will involve the Atlanta Braves and Toronto Blue Jays. On the surface, the appeal of this showcase seems as distant as the miles between them. But this match-up could be a catalyst for getting baseball back in the good graces of the public.

Reliving History

For those who are old enough to remember, or perhaps forget, the Braves and the Jays have a bit of storied history. The most memorable series between the two franchises developed in the 1992 World Series. Toronto won its first-ever championship as Mike Timlin’s scoop-and-toss beat out Atlanta speedster Otis Nixon for the last out in Game 6.

Much has changed with baseball since that memorable game. The majority of the game’s transformation happened this spring. But one common thread that is growing with the two teams is their rich harvest of young stars.

Proven Stars

The development of the Braves’ investment of international talent has come to life over the past couple of years. In 2018, outfielder Ronald Acuna, Jr. won NL Rookie of the Year. He backed up that sensational year by chasing the 40-40 club. Acuna ended the season with 41 home runs and 37 stolen bases.

Another staple of Atlanta’s core is Acuna’s buddy Ozzie Albies. After just two full seasons, the second baseman already has an All-Star appearance and Silver Slugger award under his belt. With a career WAR of 11.0, Albies has blossomed into one of the best switch-hitters in the game.

The duo of Acuna and Albies has blended well other young players. The power of their bats is being matched with promising arms.

Mike Soroka and Max Fried lead the charge on the mound. Both made a profound mark in their first full seasons during 2019. Soroka finished his rookie season with a 2.68 ERA. As a 21-year-old, he made the All-Star team and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting. Fried became a force as well, delivering 173 SO punctuated by a devastating curveball. At age 25, the California kid led the team in wins with 17.

Promising Young Talent

While the Blue Jays’ crop of talent is a bit unproven, a part of baseball’s legacy points towards promise. Toronto’s march to MLB’s elite begins with third baseman Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. The son of the Hall of Fame legend blasted onto the scene in 2019 by launching 15 home runs. He also won the Home Run Derby.

To the left of Vlad Jr. in the field resides the Blue Jays’ own progeny Bo Bichette. The 22-year-old is the son of former Toronto outfielder Dante Bichette. The elder hit 23 HR and drove in 90 RBI for the Jays in 2000. Bo became the first player the first player to tally 16 extra base hits through his first 17 games. In just 196 at-bats, he drove in 11 HR while posting a .930 OPS.

Canada’s lone MLB team has a darling of a second baseman as well. And, yes, he is also a baseball legacy player. Cavan Biggio is the son of Hall of Famer, Craig Biggio. A utility like his father, Cavan has already played multiple positions in the Bigs. He hit 16 home runs and stole 14 bases in 2019. Cavan ended the season with a 29-game on-base streak. That marked a Blue Jay record for a rookie.

Stars Align, Then Collide

As part of MLB’s provisions for 2020, teams are confined to playing only within their division or the interleague division. Teams will play 40 games in their own division and 20 games against the corresponding cross-league division. The caveat of having an interleague rival breeds the opportunity for teams to play one interleague club more than the others, creating eccentric buzz for what will be a strange season.

These two clubs were aligned by default. The Yankees and Mets match-up was a given. The Nationals and Orioles are natural. As is the Marlins and Rays positioning. The Phillies and Red Sox made sense, geographically. The Blue Jays and the Braves stood alone as the only unconventional pairing. But it’s this atypical match-up that could galvanize the sport and bring much need excitement to an industry that is starving for a boost.