The Atlanta Braves front office likely didn’t expect Brian Snitker to be this successful as an interim manager. They probably hoped he’d just get through the remaining 125 games without an embarrassing record, and then they could pick someone new for 2017.
But something happened with that plan. Snitker confirmed he knows what he’s doing. He has shown he’s good enough to be a big league manager. And he has proved beyond any doubt he alone is the man who should lead the Braves as manager into SunTrust Park next season.
Right now, the Braves are saying the right thing. They’ll wait until after the season and talk with a few others before making the final decision. That’s almost window dressing at this point, as the Braves have found their man.
Entering Saturday’s game in Miami, the Braves were the hottest team in the NL with a seven-game winning streak. They are 13-8 in September and 30-25 since July 26. The Braves are just a game below .500 (32-33) since the All-Star Break.
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When Snitker took over for Fredi Gonzalez, the Braves were a pathetic 9-28 (a .243 winning percentage). Under Snitker, the Braves are 54-63 (a .462 winning percentage).
Something similar happened last year in Philadelphia. Ryne Sandberg quit with a .352 winning percentage through 74 games. Pete Mackanin took over and had a .420 winning percentage the rest of the way. The Phillies rewarded Mackanin with a contract extension.
Snitker’s team has been successful recently with no starting rotation. A rotation means you have five or six pitchers to count on a regular basis to start games. Since Aug. 1, the Braves have used 12 different starting pitchers. That is not a rotation. That’s a revolving door of pitchers who have started.
That’s amazing. To be even close to .500, much less above it and to not have a set pitching rotation is incredible.
The difference has been the offense, and the other man who deserves credit for this turnaround is general manager John Coppolella. He somehow convinced the San Diego Padres to take Hector Olivera off his hands. Olivera was acquired a year earlier from the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he was a huge flop — awful on the field, and then he got arrested for domestic abuse off the field.
In return, Coppolella got Matt Kemp in the trade. Kemp was thought of as a malcontent who was past his prime. Instead, Kemp came to the team he grew up rooting for and has been a great presence. He has provided the power the Braves have lacked for several years, hitting 10 home runs and driving in 35 in 191 at-bats.
Kemp has made Freddie Freeman even better. Freeman no longer had the entire offense on his shoulders. He had someone else who could hit home runs. The results have been dramatic. Before the trade, the Braves averaged 3.4 runs per game. Since Kemp joined the team, the Braves have scored 5.2 runs per game.
But Snitker has been the anchor. He put out the dumpster fire when the Braves were on pace for 120 losses in mid-May and brought a calm presence to the clubhouse. Snitker treats his players like men, with respect. He actually talks to his players, and that has been appreciated.
Comments this past week from Nick Markakis, Ender Inciarte and Freeman praised Snitker’s communication skills. They know he has their back, and they know he will be honest with them about their role on the team.
Snitker has handled the bullpen very well, as he has had to balance workloads with relievers. That’s not been easy, as it has been a nightly guessing game as to what he may get from his starting pitcher.
He has also brought stability to the lineup, which is refreshing compared to the helter-skelter approach used previously.
The Braves are better, and they are going to get even better. The final record will not be pretty, but this team has come so far from when Gonzalez was fired four months ago.
This will be a busy offseason, with more work to be done. But the easiest decision the Braves will make will be to sign Snitker to an extension. He was the perfect choice to be the interim manager in May, and Snitker is now the perfect choice to take over this team permanently.
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