The All-Star Break is a good time for each baseball team to take a breather and evaluate where they are in the season. It’s a lot more fun when you are in contention, so for the Atlanta Braves it’s a different type of evaluation.
They have the worst record in baseball by a game-and-a-half on the Minnesota Twins. For a rebuilding team, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Atlanta is in the driver’s seat for the first pick in the amateur draft next June.
The Braves are 31-58 so far this season. They’re on pace for a 56-106 record. But you can really take the first 89 games and say it has been a tale of two seasons. They were 9-29 before Fredi Gonzalez was fired as manager, and since Brian Snitker took over, the Braves have gone 22-29.
If the Braves keep that same pace they’ve played under Snitker for the rest of the season, they’ll finish at 62-100, which is a lot better than the 40-122 record they were on pace for under Gonzalez.
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If Snitker helps the Braves avoid a 100-loss season, he should be given a lifetime contract. With this roster, made up of young players trying to get their feet wet and a bunch of reserves playing more than they probably should, Snitker is actually making this team watchable again.
Snitker’s status will be one of the story lines in the second part of the season. Obviously, if they do continue to play better, the sentiment will be to keep him as the team continues the rebuilding process in the new stadium. Snitker seems to already be winning over fans, as they can easily see a difference in how the team has played since Snitker took over.
The Braves are playing harder for Snitker than they did under Gonzalez, who had become such a lame duck in the first six weeks of the season the inevitability of his dismissal was an issue. With Gonzalez, when the Braves got behind, the game was pretty much over. Now you feel like they may have a chance to come back when they trail early in the game.
It might be a challenge for Snitker if the roster continues to change. We are now less than three weeks away from the trade deadline. We could see several veteran players traded away for more young prospects, and that would mean the vets would need replacing on the current roster for the rest of the season.
That’s what killed the Braves last season. They lost Jason Grilli to an injury and then traded Jim Johnson. The bullpen, particularly middle relief, fell apart. They also struggled to replace Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe in the lineup.
It might be a bit easier this season if Johnson is traded again and if the Braves deal closer Arodys Vizcaino. They have young Mauricio Cabrera available to audition as the closer, and the bullpen actually has accumulated some depth this year.
The Braves might trade Nick Markakis, but they should get the injured Mallex Smith back sometime in early August. Plus, the Braves must decide what to do with Hector Olivera, who can come back from his suspension for domestic abuse in a few weeks. Olivera might get a shot to see if he can contribute before the Braves decide to cut bait and call his acquisition a failure.
Of course, one pressing question will be whether the Braves call up middle infielders Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson from Double-A Mississippi. They likely will be the starters in SunTrust Park next April, but the Braves will debate whether to give both an early audition.
It’s still going to be a struggle, as this team is what it is. But the Braves have played better recently, and hopefully they can continue to play hard for a manager who wants the gig moving forward.