Guerry Clegg

Braves and Falcons got a lot more interesting

The arrival of top prospect Ronald Acuna Jr. to the Atlanta Braves lineup last week kicked off a very interesting week for Braves and Falcons fans.
The arrival of top prospect Ronald Acuna Jr. to the Atlanta Braves lineup last week kicked off a very interesting week for Braves and Falcons fans. AP

Well, now. In less than 48 hours, the Braves and the Falcons just got a lot more interesting.

By interesting, I don’t mean just make their respective seasons a little more tolerable for Atlanta fans to endure, or even just more entertaining. Rather, by interesting I mean don’t sleep on these teams in their respective postseasons.

First was the long-anticipated promotion of Ronald Acuna Jr. to the Braves starting lineup. He joined the team Wednesday in Cincinnati, started in left field, and promptly factored into two wins over the Reds.

Just like that, the Braves lineup became one of the deepest and most exciting in the National League.

The next night, as Acuna was leading the Braves to that second win, the Falcons drafted Alabama’s Calvin Ridley — deemed by most NFL scout as the best wide receiver in this draft — to team with Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu.

Just like that, the Falcons’ already potent offense became as powerful as it was two years ago when it almost delivered the city its first Super Bowl victory ever.

Suddenly, quicker than Ozzie Albies can go first to third with helmet flying off, both teams have to be considered viable contenders to bring that second — or, who knows, maybe second AND third —major championship to Atlanta.

In the case of the Braves, sure, that might seem premature if you’re thinking 2018. They still don’t have enough pitching to hold up through three postseason series. They might not have enough to even get there. But it could be adequate enough to at least keep the team in contention until the closing stretch. By then, they may have added another arm or two to the starting rotation and/or bullpen. Mike Soroka may be the best pitcher in the entire organization right now even though he’s still at Triple-A Gwinnett. Soroka’s imminent promotion will make the rotation immediately better.

If the relievers can just cut down on their walks even just a little, the bullpen could be significantly better.

Make no mistake, the Braves target date for being a World Series contender has not been pushed up. It’s still 2019.

But now that certainly seems much more realistic with Albies looking like a Rookie of the Year candidate. That is, if he’s not surpassed by Acuna. Meanwhile, Dansby Swanson is playing at an All-Star level.

The promises of three years ago are beginning to be fulfilled. Now they’re in a position where the addition of one or two key players via free-agent signing or trade in the offseason could make them legitimate World Series contenders.

The centerpiece to all of this is Acuna.

Ridley won’t be the equivalent of that to the Falcons. He doesn’t project to be a franchise player as Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are. But he very likely is the missing piece to what already was a very good offense.

“We were in the market for a guy who can really fly, already with Julio and Sanu and the rest of our receiver group,” said Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff. “That addition was very important to us.”

Head coach Dan Quinn loves the versatility Ridley adds to the offense. He noted Ridley’s speed to play outside and quickness to play inside is a rare combination.

“We love the speed. We love the energy. We love the toughness,” Quinn said. “That’s part of our style.”

Perhaps the only Falcons player more excited about drafting Ridley than Ryan was Jones. The indelible final image of last season was Jones having the winning catch in the playoff loss to Philadelphia slip through his fingers. While Jones normally catches that ball, what Ridley’s addition will do is give Ryan another option and give Jones some coverage relief. Defenses simply can’t double team everybody.

For what it’s worth, the next Super Bowl will be played in Atlanta, February 2019. Here’s something that’s never happened before: No city has even been host to the Super Bowl and World Series in the same calendar year with the home team playing in both. How cool would that be?

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