So, what if things fell right for the Atlanta Braves in 2018? What if the kids developed and performed, maybe even overperformed and overachieved a bit?
This exercise will not try and be a road map for a playoff appearance this season for the Braves. Instead, it will be to see what might happen if fans do see significant improvement, particularly in the pitching staff.
Let’s start with Julio Teheran, who struggled mightily last year, especially in Atlanta at the new SunTrust Park. Teheran’s ERA was 5.86 at home and 3.14 on the road. In his last four starts at home, Teheran had a 2.85 ERA, so maybe he was able to figure things out.
Teheran had a career 3.02 ERA at Turner Field, so it’s not like he’s had trouble pitching in Atlanta. This was a pitcher who had a 3.33 ERA in his previous four full seasons, including a 3.21 ERA in 2016. So, it’s very possible his high ERA last season (4.49) was an anomaly.
What if Teheran goes back closer to his norm? His ERA could drop a full point (to 3.49) and still be a bit higher than the 3.33 ERA he had between 2013 and 2016. Teheran’s value to the Braves would increase if his ERA were to drop back to his career average before SunTrust Park had such a negative impact.
Sean Newcomb had a 4.32 ERA in his first 19 MLB starts last season. We all know Newcomb must improve his control, as he had 57 walks in 100 innings. The 5.1 BB/9 ratio was just a tad higher than his 4.8 minor league ratio.
What if Newcomb’s control improves and his ERA drops to just below 4.00? Newcomb averaged just over 5 innings per start last season. Well, what if in his second season he improves that to just over 6 innings per start?
What if one of the young pitchers breaks out? Let’s say it’ll be Luiz Gohara, who made five starts late last season. Gohara’s strikeouts were impressive, as he had 31 in 29.1 innings. What if Gohara made 32 starts this season and eclipsed the 200-strikeout mark?
Of course, Gohara would have to improve the 4.91 ERA he had in those five starts. But, what if he did? What if Gohara had an ERA closer to 3.70? If Gohara had that ERA, along with close to 200 innings and 200 strikeouts he might become Atlanta’s best starter.
Brandon McCarthy is a veteran pitcher who is in the last year of his contract. The Braves would likely love to trade him by July 31 to make room for another young pitcher. What if that young pitcher comes up and makes a great impression?
Let’s say it’s Kyle Wright, last year’s first round draft pick. Maybe Wright can make eight starts and show why he’s one of the best pitching prospects in the game. What if Wright has an ERA close to 3.00 in his two months with Atlanta?
What about the bullpen? The Braves have A.J. Minter as their best closer prospect since Craig Kimbrel. What if Minter takes off and saves 30-plus games and has an ERA under 3.00?
The Braves will have Ozzie Albies take over full-time at second base this season. Albies hit .286 with a .354 on base percentage last season in 57 games. Well, if Albies does that this season for the full year, hitting 15 home runs and stealing 25 bases?
What if Dansby Swanson sees an increase in his batting average? Swanson hit .232 last year after hitting .302 in his first audition late in the 2016 season. What if Swanson hit .265 and gets his OBP near .340?
It’s so hard to project what Ronald Acuna might do this season. We don’t know when Acuna will come up, but if it’s early May he might play in 130 games with Atlanta. What if Acuna hit .270 with an OBP of .340, 15 home runs and 30 stolen bases? Couple those numbers with his defense, and that could be a significant improvement over Matt Kemp from last year’s team.
Third base is hard to project. Will it be Johan Camargo? Rio Ruiz? Camargo and Ruiz? Camargo played 82 games last year, right at half the season. With the value he provides on defense, if Carmago can hit .299 again and improve the .331 OBP he had last season, he would likely be a huge part of the lineup for the Braves.
The logical next step in a rebuilding process would be for the Braves to go from 72 wins in 2017 to between 79-84 wins this season. If some of these “best-case scenarios” come to fruition, what do you think the Braves record could be in 2018?
What do you think must happen for the Braves to improve 7-12 more wins this season? That’s a 1-2 game improvement per month, and this team might be ready to take that next step.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org