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NL East Preview: Atlanta Braves

Did the Braves do enough to improve from 2016’s last place finish?

Freeman and Kemp will be the main power sources for Atlanta.
Photo: Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports

2016 Record: 68-93; 5th in NL East

2017 Projection (courtesy of PECOTA): 76-86

The Atlanta Braves had a pretty awful season last year, but the success they enjoyed in the second-half of the season gave the Braves faithful some hope. The team started the season with Fredi Gonzalez as their manager, but after a horrific start, Atlanta fired Gonzalez and named Brian Snitker their interim manager. Snitker led Atlanta to a record of 59-65 when he managed, which is pretty solid considering the structure of the Braves roster.

Last year, Atlanta relied on a bunch of veteran castaways to lead the team. That didn’t work out so hot as they only finished with 68 wins at the bottom of the NL East. Atlanta would go on to hire Snitker as their full-time manager after he enjoyed some success as interim manager. Atlanta played its last season at Turner Field in 2016, as they are now moving to the brand new SunTrust Park.

Even if Atlanta isn’t very competitive this year, they have one of the league’s best farm systems to look forward to. Dansby Swanson, who was Atlanta’s top prospect last year, will be the team’s starting shortstop this season. If everything goes right, Atlanta might be able to make some noise, but it’s more likely they’ll be mediocre at best.

Last year, Atlanta’s offense was atrocious, but they should be at least a little bit better this season. Their strong suit on offense is definitely their outfield, which has a nice balance of contact and power hitters. Matt Kemp will be entering his first full season with the Braves after being traded from the Padres last season. Kemp had a resurgence at least in the power department last season, as he hit 35 home runs, which is the most home runs he’s hit since 2011. Thus, Kemp has the ability to be Atlanta’s best home-run hitter this season. Starting center fielder Ender Inciarte hit .291 last season, and he’ll need to be consistent again this season. Starting right fielder Nick Markakis hit .269 with 89 RBI in 2016.

Atlanta’s best player, however, is first baseman Freddie Freeman. Freeman will be the Braves main run producer alongside Kemp. Freeman hit .302 with 34 homers and 91 RBI last season. Atlanta will be getting a boost at second base, as they acquired Brandon Phillips from the Reds. Phillips hit .291 with 64 RBI in 2016, but he’s had better seasons. In 2013, Phillips compiled a career-high 103 RBI.

The Braves rotation received a significant boost this offseason. Atlanta added to a rotation that featured ace Julio Teheran. Atlanta signed veterans Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, and Jaime Garcia to provide depth and consistency to their once inconsistent rotation. All three of these guys are well past their primes, but they can still put up solid numbers for Atlanta. The fifth spot in the rotation will be filled by Matt Wisler or Mike Foltynewicz. The spot will be filled during spring training, and Foltynewicz seems to have a slight advantage right now.

Atlanta’s bullpen isn’t going to be very strong, but they do have a closer that’s proven he can succeed. Jim Johnson, who’s only a few years removed from back-to-back seasons with at least 50 saves, will be Atlanta’s closer. Arodys Vizcaino, Ian Krol, and Mauricio Cabrera are young relievers who will have to step up for Atlanta’s bullpen.

Atlanta has an interesting roster that could potentially put together a decent season. The Braves have veterans that can play their positions well while the younger guys in the farm system continue to develop. Atlanta will likely be mediocre, but things are looking up for the Braves.