|Posted by theprincipality on October 5, 2016 at 7:25 PM|
So 2016 is finally over for the Atlanta Braves, although far from being put out of their misery, the Braves finished the season strongly and a September surge saw them jump back to respectability and instead of finishing dead last, leapfrogged four teams, three of them in the National League to finish 68-93 (missing one game after the untimely death of Marlins pitcher, Jose Fernandez saw their game with Miami cancelled that day).
In fact, the late season surge made many of the early struggles seem like a long forgotten nightmare. Freddie Freeman put up MVP numbers and won the NL player of the month in September, hitting. 385 with half a dozen home runs. He also became the proud owner of a 30 game hitting streak in the process, the longest in baseball in 2016. Despite MVP numbers, it is unlikely he will walk away with that honour though. Teammate Matt Kemp knows all about that. Voters value a player who plays for a winning team and even though Kemp had the best numbers a few years back for LA, he lost out to Ryan Braun who played for a more successful Brewers team. Nonetheless, Freeman's huge contract is now starting to look like a bargain.
When viewed as a whole, the Braves' season doesn't look as bad as it could have been. Interestingly, the team's record against the NL East is, Washington aside, surprisingly good. They wound up with winning records against the Mets, Marlins and Phillies. What was great to see was the team competing right down the stretch, playing spoiler to a number of teams still chasing playoff aspirations. Even the final weekend of the season saw a series win against a Detroit team that entered the weekend on the cusp of the AL wildcard. Instead, like so many teams to visit Turner Field over the past 19 seasons, all they left with was disappointment.
But now, Turner Field is just a memory and SunTrust Park is now the future. With the 2017 schedules recently released, it has all become a bit more real. First up, an exhibition game vs the Yankees and then San Diego to begin the regular season. I am even planning to take in a couple of games myself in its debut year. There is a weekend in June pencilled in for the Mets and Phillies to visit town and I will be making the trip from Down Under. The new stadium has been the symbol of the entire rebuilding process that has been going on the past two years. John Schuerholz wanted to put out a winning team for the new stadium and make them sustainably winning. They are clearly all very proud of the team's new Cobb County home and hope it can be the benchmark for how all future Major League venues are created, based on the idea of a total experience, with shops, restaurants and baseball. Community is the key word. I, for one, am very excited!
By the time I visit in June, we will know just what kind of year the Braves are having. If the end of 2016 is anything to go by, the competitive team could be a reality as early as next season. Having Matt Kemp around has been a huge boost to both morale and the quality of the lineup. Still in his prime, Kemp has provided suitable protection for Freeman, allowing him to put up the number he did. Dansby Swanson too has been a revelation. Touted as the team's saviour for much of the year, he has more than held his own since making his debut. The rotation too is looking much improved. Julio Teheran is now a bona-fide ace, with Matt Wisler gaining in confidence and Mike Foltynewicz overcoming numerous health problems to post a winning record. Management are looking to add another quality veteran to the rotation for next season and so hopefully we can get some consistent quality starts.
Finally, the biggest question the Braves have going into the offseason though is who will lead the team in 2017. Brian Snitker has made an outstanding case that he be given the job on a permanent basis, but whether the powers that be are looking more long term remains to be seen. I suspect that if Snitker has not done enough, then Eddie Perez will get the chance. Personally, I think Snitker should be given the chance as he has turned around Fredi Gonzalez's miserable start and achieved a result nobody thought possible in May. Should it be Perez though there will be no complaints here. Catchers make the best managers and there are few better students of the game than Perez. I've said it before, but there is a reason he was Greg Maddux's personal catcher all those years.
Regardless of managerial choices, the future is now starting to look much brighter and the rebuilding plan is almost complete. The time for excuses is over and the future we have been promised and told to be patient for is now. Is it April yet? Go Braves!