We’re a third of the way done with the Pop-Tarts Series with this latest entry! Let’s check in with the Atlanta Braves, the often-relocated yet always beloved National League mainstay
How’s It Going?
The 2015 Atlanta Braves have had a rough go from the start. In this the 50th anniversary of the Braves being in Atlanta, the Tomahawks are sitting at 42-47 after losing their last 5 heading into the All-Star Break. Amazingly, the Braves are only 6 games out of postseason contention, but are just not a good enough team to make it this year. Hopefully by 2017, when the new, state-of-the-art SunTrust Park opens its doors for the first time, the Braves will be back to their contending ways of the past.
The Braves’ offense as a whole is underwhelming. That doesn’t mean there isn’t some hope for the future though. Freddie Freeman is one of the game’s top first baseman, as well as the clear face of the Braves. Freeman is batting .299 with a .520 SLG on the season. Unfortunately, his supporting cast isn’t exactly what you would consider strong. Nick Markakis offers pesky on-base abilities but has still not hit even a single home run for the season (!), Andrelton Simmons is the game’s premier defensive shortstop but is still developing in the batters’ box, and while Cameron Maybin has revitalized his career by slashing .289/.356/.418, he is potential trade bait as Atlanta looks to stock up on prospects for 2017. The remainder of the lineup is usually flaky veterans (looking at you, Juan Uribe, Jonny Gomes, and especially A.J. Pierzynski), or various nondescript minor leaguers like former Yankee nemesis Pedro Ciriaco and ex-Bombers Zoilo Almonte and Eury Perez. These guys are all performing just as poorly as you would expect. The few that actually are producing at or above expectations, including Pierzynski or Chris Johnson, are very likely to be traded soon. The fact that Atlanta’s lineup features very little in the form of constants from one year to the next is why they can’t be a playoff team this year. Once the kids come up in a couple of seasons this team can be deadly, but as of today they are just a team for wily old veterans to extend their careers. It would be shocking if by the end of the month the Braves have even half the lineup that they run out today. This club is going to be a seller all the way.
Atlanta is in a bind when it comes to pitchers as well. They have an impressive core coming up through the minors, including the recently acquired Touki Toussaint, but are struggling at the big league level. Shelby Miller alone is having a bang-up year as the de facto ace of the club. Miller has only a 5-5 record in 18 starts, indicative of the poor team around him. Miller himself though is still a plus pitcher, posting a BAA of only .227 and a 2.38 ERA. Alex Wood and Julio Teheran are intriguing young pitchers but are not having outstanding seasons this year. Wood is getting beaten to the tune of a .299 BAA and Teheran has given up 16 homers in 18 starts. The final two spots of Atlanta’s rotation are frequently shuffling. At the moment it is Matt Wisler and Mike Foltynewicz who have those spots, but neither have much of a track record. Wisler in particular has shown upside though, and another ex-Yankee prospect by the name of Manny Banuelos has finally made his major league debut. With more starters on the way through the pipeline and possibly the return of lefty Mike Minor from the DL, this team could receive a much-needed boost in the rotation soon. The Braves’ bullpen is much like its lineup: full of veteran retreads and unimpressive youngsters. Jason Grilli was a pleasant surprise at closer until injuring his Achilles. Now, homer-prone Jim Johnson will take over at closer with resident LOOGY Luis Avilan now pushed into a setup role. Depth is an issue. Rookies Cody Martin and Brandon Cunniff have had trouble, and David Aardsma and Arodys Vizcaino (2 more Ex-Yankees!) don’t offer much other than cool names. With many teams in need of bullpen help, perhaps Avilan, Aardsma, or Johnson could be jettisoned to acquire some more prospect flair. As is though, this a team with a flawed pitching staff.
The Braves in 2015 are a club in transition. Not much should be expected of them, and it could really be argued that they are exceeding expectations by floating close to .500. Some veteran pieces could net key young players in return, and really that’s all the Braves need. They will not make the playoffs with this roster and they know it, so GM John Hart’s job is to retool for the 2017 opening of SunTrust Park. Right now he’s doing a great job of that. You can write off the Braves for the rest of this season, but by the turn of the decade the Tomahawks will be back in the playoffs making noise.