|Posted by theprincipality on May 18, 2017 at 6:15 PM|
It is an anniversary of sorts in the Braves Nation. This week marked one year since Fredi Gonzalez was unceremoniously dumped as manager during a trip to Pittsburgh and replaced with long-term minor league servant, Brian Snitker. Snit's first year has had its ups and downs, but the general outlook is very positive. A strong finish to 2016 and a start to 2017 that has shown a lot of promise and seen Freddie Freeman establish himself as a front-runner in the MVP race. Of course Freeman's broken wrist will end any MVP hopes, but he has over the past 12 months become on of the game's real superstars.
The hardest thing to grasp about the season so far is how inconsistent the team has been. In less than two months we have seen losing streaks of five, six and six games. Normally, a team capable of that would be languishing in last place, however Atlanta finds itself in second place in the NL East only five games under 500. After leaving Houston last week, Atlanta has won five of six, added to its own winning streaks of five and four games. It is difficult to predict whether Jekyll or Hyde will win out and where the team will finish, but if they can remain within touching distance by the All-Star break, the second half of the season could be very exciting.
If the team is to challenge this year, they will need to start blooding some of the young pitching talent in the rotation. I disagreed with the strategy of signing Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia to fill the rotation. I think Garcia and a top class pitcher would have been better. Colon was a great player, but he is 43 and at $12.5m hardly a bargain. Dickey and Colon's salaries could have paid a free agent ace for a year and opened up a spot for Wisler, Newcombe, Sims, Fried, Blair or any of the other quality young arms waiting in the wings.
Whilst Dickey has battled struggles to an even record and respectable ERA, Colon has been a massive disappointment. He currently sits 2-4 with an ERA of 6.70. Even that is generous. Two of his last three starts have seen the Braves multiple runs down before he even recorded an out. It seems the Braves are keeping him around because they foolishly gave him a bobblehead night on June 9th. That would be a disaster if he were cut before his big night. It is time to eat our losses on his salary though and get rid. If that means making up an injury and moving him to the DL then so be it. His time is done.
On the plus side, the batting lineup is looking fairly good. Freddie leads the NL in home runs and has a. 340 average, whilst Kemp, Markakis and Flowers are all hitting well above. 300. Ender Inciarte has a respectable average in the leadoff spot, as well as continuing to produce highlight reel quality plays in the outfield. Dansby Swanson has shown signs he has overcome his early struggles and might be starting to live up to his potential.
I think Swanson might have been feeling the weight of expectations for the first month of the season. As first overall draft pick he has been billed as the messiah. That is a lot to put on the shoulders of someone so young. Whether he couldn't handle that, or whether he believed his own hype and didn't work hard enough is unclear, but now he is out of the running for Rookie of the Year, we might actually be starting to see the real Dansby. He just has a good hitting streak and his average is back around the Mendoza line. His fielding needs to improve though. Yesterday he picked up his 8th error of the year and we're only in May!
So this first blog of the year wouldn't be complete without talking about SunTrust Park. It has been two long years awaiting its grand opening and I was fortunate enough to be in Atlanta during its first week and take in a game during the opening homestand. I must say that I was very impressed. I took a tour of the park the day after the game and when you hear about everything that makes the park modern, unique and hand-crafted just for baseball, you really appreciate how dated Turner Field was and realise the need for the move.
There are so many great features from free high speed broadband to refrigerated beer slots at the Chop House restaurant, but I think the thing you get most from is the sense of history and tradition everywhere you go. There are acknowledgements to the Boston and Milwaukee franchises, giant bobbleheads of Braves legends, constant reminders of pennants and championships won and a breathtaking Hall of Fame exhibit, which I covered in a bit more detail elsewhere. Player facilities are top of the line and some so secret they couldn't show us on the tour.
I could go on all day about how much I enjoyed my SunTrust Park experience, but will end it there. I do recommend everyone go and check it out though. You won't be disappointed. Now the focus for the Atlanta Braves is to produce a championship calibre team for their championship calibre home. The first step is to cut out the long losing streaks and of course get Freddie Freeman healthy again ASAP. We will see how that goes in my next blog!