Bill Shanks

Braves must do better this season in division

Atlanta Braves’ Ender Inciarte hits a double against the Detroit Tigers in a spring baseball exhibition game Sunday in Lakeland, Fla.
Atlanta Braves’ Ender Inciarte hits a double against the Detroit Tigers in a spring baseball exhibition game Sunday in Lakeland, Fla. AP

There are several things the Braves must do to get just a little bit better in 2018. Yes, we’re being conservative in the expectations for this team. The Braves aren’t ready for people to boldly predict a playoff appearance, at least not yet.

A year from now, that might be the thing to do. Let the process continue to play out, as the young kids continue to develop and get more experience. The pieces are getting in place for the Braves to be better, but it still might take some time.

So, getting better should simply be the term. Let the Braves get better and the record will take care of itself. It would be great for the Braves, who won 72 games last season, to inch toward the .500 mark, which would mean nine more victories this season.

It’s a six-month season, so that would mean 1.5 more wins on average per month to reach 81 wins. That doesn’t seem as daunting as saying nine more wins are required.

How can that happen? Well, one thing the Braves must do is be better in their own division, the National League East. They were 10 games under .500 last season against the Nationals, Mets, Phillies and Marlins. Even getting to .500 in the NL East would put improve the Braves by five games from last season.

Atlanta was 9-10 against the Nationals last year, which was great considering the Nationals were 29-9 against the Braves the two previous seasons. Everyone expects Washington to win the NL East. It’s Bryce Harper’s contract walk year, so you know they’re going for it before their roster changes next season if Harper leaves.

The Nationals won 97 games last season, and they really haven’t made any significant changes except bringing in a new manager. Dave Martinez takes over for Dusty Baker in the dugout, and they must hope that will be the difference in getting to the World Series that has eluded them during the Harper era.

The Marlins finished in second place last season, but they’ll drop down in 2018. New owner Derek Jeter has gutted the roster, and the Marlins may lose more than 100 games. The Braves were 11-8 against Miami last year, and that record must be better this season.

New York finished behind the third-place Braves in fourth last season in the division. The Mets were 70-92 mainly due to injuries in the starting rotation. Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz started a total of 20 games, so they need those guys back healthy this season.

The Mets added Adrian Gonzalez for first base, Todd Frazier for third base and brought back Jay Bruce for right field. But it all goes back to the Mets’ starting pitching. If they are healthy, New York will have a legit chance to be better this season.

Against the Mets last season, the Braves were 7-12 – against a team with two fewer overall wins than what they had. So, Atlanta must do better against the Mets in 2018, even if the Mets are improved.

Then there are the Phillies, a team that won only 66 games last season. But Philadelphia was 13-6 against the Braves. The Phillies will be better this season, with Carlos Santana now in the lineup and Jake Arietta added to the rotation.

The Braves had a combined 13-25 record against the two teams behind them in the division. That was the main reason the overall record against the NL East was 33-43. How can the Braves get better in 2018? They must do better against the teams they play the most games against. It’s that simple.

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