Last season, the Atlanta Braves got better when the offense got better. The addition of Matt Kemp on Aug. 1 and then rookie Dansby Swanson a few weeks later made a huge difference in the lineup.
From opening day through July 31, the Braves averaged just 3.4 runs per game. Then starting in August, the Braves averaged 5.2 runs per game the rest of the season.
How will that translate to a full season? And what will the lineup do now that another significant piece has been added?
The Sunday acquisition of Brandon Phillips means the Atlanta lineup will be a bit more different on opening day. It also means half the starting lineup this year will be different from the one that started a year ago.
Now, Phillips will join Kemp and Swanson. Plus, Tyler Flowers didn’t take over as the regular catcher until later in the season. So, what will the new lineup do for 162 games?
The seven players who played second base for the Braves last season combined to hit .248 with 12 home runs and 64 RBI
Phillips hit .291 last season in 141 games, with 11 home runs, 64 RBI and a .320 on-base percentage. He also had 34 doubles and 14 stolen bases. After the All-Star break, Phillips hit .335 with a .350 OBP, five home runs and 30 RBI in 230 at-bats.
Phillips suffered a bruised hand the last week of the 2016 season when he was hit by a pitch. There is some concern the injury could be an issue moving forward, but the Braves believe the price allowed the risk to be minimal.
The Braves got Phillips for practically nothing. They will pay him only $1 million this season, and the pitchers Atlanta gave Cincinnati in the trade are not prospects.
What will Phillips do in a new uniform? He has been with the Reds for 11 years, but now the Stone Mountain product is coming home. The Braves have embraced hometown players for years, but this is a veteran who is finally getting the chance to play in his backyard.
Phillips was loved in Cincinnati. He’s a veteran player who was respected in the Reds’ clubhouse, and that will only help a Braves team trying to learn how to win.
The trade allows the Braves to be patient with top prospect Ozzie Albies. They also have Travis Demeritte, who will be at Double-A. Plus, those players will be around Phillips all during spring training.
The Braves will likely bat Phillips sixth in the lineup. Ender Inciarte will lead off, followed by Swanson and Freddie Freeman. Kemp will bat clean-up, followed by Nick Markakis in the five hole. Then Phillips will bat sixth, with Adonis Garcia and Tyler Flowers rounding out the lineup.
Last year, the lineup was changed a lot. There was a lot of movement at every position except first base. This year, manager Brian Snitker could have a consistent batting order. That stability should help tremendously.
We all know the Braves pitching must improve this season. The team went 20-10 in the final 30 games of last season and had nine different starting pitchers. In the 37-35 record after the All-Star break, the Braves used 13 different starting pitchers.
The addition of Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia should help the rotation. They are three veteran pitchers who should bring stability to the pitching staff. Of course, the Braves could see some young pitchers knock on the door, as well, this season.
The offense will still be a focus of this team. The addition of Phillips means the lineup is improved from a year ago, and the results could make the Braves candidates for a winning record in 2017.
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