It’s April 1st, which means that it is also April Fool’s Day. It also means that the Atlanta Braves are about to begin another season. At this time last year, to a fair amount of derision, I said that the Atlanta Braves would lose a hundred games and probably finish with the worst record in all of the major leagues. I was wrong. Atlanta only lost ninety-three games and finished second to last in the majors. Close enough.
This year, the Braves move to their new digs at Sun Trust Park. There is a certain amount of optimism. The starting lineup is definitely more promising than the tattered mess Atlanta left Florida with at the end of spring training a year ago. I predicted then that Atlanta would be one of the weakest offenses in the league and I was correct but that did not exactly require the powers of Nostradamus to foresee. Only those in full sway of spring hope failed to grasp that particular reality. This team could actually produce some runs.
If young shortstop phenom Dansby Swanson gets on base consistently, the top half of the lineup could be quite effective. There is some pop now with Freddie Freeman, Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis. After back to back seasons of embarrassingly low power numbers, the Braves should get closer to the middle of the pack nationally with regards to home-runs. It will not be an elite offense or anything but it shouldn’t be anemic either. The pitching staff will no longer have to throw a shutout to have a chance at a win.
Which brings us to the pitching staff. This is where things begin to get a little dicey. The bullpen is weak at best. The closer will be Jim Johnson who was a very good closer four years ago. Johnson had 50 saves in 2013. He has had 44 saves since including 20 of 23 in save opportunities for the Braves last season. The franchise is talking up the return of Eric O’Flaherty who has looked good at times in the spring, but health has been an issue in the past for the 32 year old lefty. Unless some of the young arms become dominant it is hard to imagine this as a formidable bullpen. The Braves will need to score early and often and hope the starters eat up some innings to protect the pen.
The starting rotation hinges on Julio Teheran. He is the ONLY hope Atlanta has for a legitimate ace. While Teheran has shown flashes of true brilliance at times he has also been inconsistent. This could be his breakout season as a true ace. If not, this will be another long season for the Braves. Behind Teheran Atlanta will parade out two veterans over forty years old each in Bartolo Colon and R A Dickey. Both of these elderly gentlemen where great pitchers in their day but the real hope here is that they can least chew up some innings to spare the bullpen. The Braves hope some of the young talent will step up to round out the rotation. This is NOT one of the better pitching staffs in the majors. Atlanta will likely give up a lot of runs in 2017.
Braves fans are hopeful in April like baseball fans everywhere. I have heard talk of “battling for the wildcard”. I just do not see it folks. I believe the Braves will be battling to finish above .500. A battle I believe they will win, just barely. Which makes me more optimistic than the folks in Las Vegas who have edged the over-under on Braves wins up to 73.5 this week. Atlanta has spent the last few years trying to rebuild their depleted farm system which they have, for the most part, accomplished. But, they are still at least one more year or more likely two from being an actual contender. Braves fans will have to suck it up again in 2017 and just enjoy seeing a few more runs scored and a beautiful new stadium. My prediction for the final record, 83-79 and third place in the division. I believe that thinking this team is a contender as of April 1, 2017 is…well…foolish.