There are a couple of ways to gauge the potential improvement of a baseball team. And for a club coming off only 68 wins last season, the Atlanta Braves need as much encouragement as possible they will win more than that in 2017.
First, you could simply compare last year’s opening day roster to the one that will start the season Monday against the New York Mets. Then, you could also look at the roster from when last season ended to the one for opening day. Finally, you could simply predict how the players added to the roster during the offseason will make a difference.
There is no doubt the Braves’ roster is better now than the one that started the 2016 season. Last year’s rotation included Bud Norris, Jhoulys Chacin and Williams Perez. Hector Olivera was in the starting lineup, as was Erick Aybar, A.J. Pierzynski and Jace Peterson.
Let’s go ahead and place a bet that Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia will have better numbers than the 3-10 record in 26 starts Norris, Chacin and Perez combined for last season. Olivera was a bust, so Matt Kemp will be better. Dansby Swanson definitely will be better than Aybar. Having Tyler Flowers take over for Pierzynski will help, and even Peterson’s family would not take him over veteran Brandon Phillips.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Having the position players in place for the entire season will make a difference. We know how much better the Braves were after Kemp and Swanson joined the team in August. Now, the Braves will have those two for the full 162-game schedule.
That’s why this year’s opening-day roster is better than the one the Braves finished with late last season. They won’t have Kemp and Swanson for just part of the season. They’ll be there from the very first day. And having Phillips as the newcomer makes a difference.
Plus, don’t underestimate Braves manager Brian Snitker’s plan to stabilize the lineup.
“We’re so much better off than we were a year ago, it’s unbelievable,” Snitker said late in spring training. “I’ve got a lineup. If you’re putting everybody in there every day, that’s a good thing. When I got here in May, we didn’t have that. It was mix-and-match. It wasn’t good. Now, we have a lineup. That’s a huge step in the right direction.
“We’ve got an outfield. We’ve got guys who I hope will play 150-something games apiece. Matt Kemp has a knack of driving runs in. Ender Inciarte is a gold glove. Nick Markakis is just steady as the day is long.”
Some worry about the starting rotation, but can it really be worse than last year when 13 different starters were used after the All-Star break? The Braves had a winning record in those final 72 games, despite the revolving door on the mound. So now, with more stability in the rotation, it will be a better situation.
There’s no reason to think Julio Teheran won’t do what he has done the past few seasons. And it’s time for Mike Foltynewicz to take off.
“He’s had a really good camp,” Snitker said. “I’ve seen a lot of steps forward with Folty.”
Patience will be required with the Braves. They have a lot of road games early on as the schedule was set to give the team more time to get SunTrust Park ready for the season. But once this team gets it feet under it, it could be ready good.
And when the young prospects, like Max Fried, Sean Newcomb, Ozzie Albies and maybe even Ronald Acuna come up to Atlanta, look out. That could be exciting.
I’d rather be conservative on a prediction, not wanting to trust in a worst-to-first season. Let’s say the Braves go 83-79 and are at least in NL wild-card contention into September. That would be a great next step in the rebuilding process.
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 email@example.com.