You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myAJC.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myAJC.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myAJC.com.

Brightness of Braves’ future uncertain with unproven pitching


It’s the selling-hope time of the season.

Look at the potential of this lineup. …

Look at this beautiful new stadium. …

Look at our prospect rankings. …

Don’t look at the 188 losses in the past two seasons because those years don’t matter anymore — except for the final 30 games last year, because that part we like …

The Braves are ready to open season No. 3 since their rebuild. They are oozing with optimism, as they should be in April. Their newish manager, Brian Snitker, who calmed a frazzled clubhouse last year, said in spring training, “I don’t want to just come out here and get better. We’re already better. If our focus isn’t winning the division then we’re wasting our time here.”

It’s the right words and the right mindset, even if not completely attached to reality.

Strange things happen in sports. But there’s a reason why, amid all of this local optimism, the Las Vegas wiseguys have set the Braves’ over/under win total at 71.5, which equates to another 90-loss season. Pitching. It has been at the center of the organization’s rebuilding efforts, but the young arms aren’t ready yet.

Some of the pitching prospects were developing too slowly for general manager John Coppolella’s liking, so he fired pitching coach Roger McDowell, against the preference of others in the organization. This was followed by Coppolella’s tacit acknowledgement that, yes, help was needed, because he then signed starters Bartolo Colon, who turns 44 years old next month, and R.A. Dickey, who is 42.

The message: McDowell apparently can’t coach 40-somethings either.

Meanwhile, back on earth: president of baseball operations John Hart and Coppolella have done a nice job restocking the Braves’ minor-league system that was run down by predecessor Frank Wren. The major league team’s everyday lineup also is better. The projected first five players in the batting order — Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson, Freddie Freeman, Matt Kemp, Nick Markakis — project as a group that can consistently produce runs, even if Kemp backslides somewhat from the numbers he put up after coming over from San Diego last season.

But that’s where most of the good ends. The bench looks weak. The bullpen is suspect. The starting rotation (Julio Teheran, Colon, Jaime Garcia, Dickey, Mike Foltynewicz) recently was ranked 23rd of 30 teams by USA Today. The analytics-driven site Fangraphs ranks it 27th.

The Braves have allowed 760 and 779 runs in the past two seasons, with run-differentials of minus-130 and minus-187.

They used 60 players each of the past two seasons, at least 10 more than in any other year in franchise history.

They used 37 pitchers in 2015 and 35 in 2016, the two highest totals in franchise history.

They used 16 starting pitchers last season, six more than the year before. If anything close to that happens again, it won’t matter how good the lineup is.

The thinking in signing Colon and Dickey is that while they’re obviously old and near the career exit ramp, they’ll consume innings and take pressure off the bullpen. The question is whether the spring training numbers of the two represent foreshadowing or an aberration: Colon had a 9.20 ERA with opponents hitting .367; Dickey a 6.00 ERA with opponents hitting .311.

The future is bright if pitchers currently at various minor-league levels develop. But they’ll unlikely make an impact at the major league level this year. So the Braves hope to dazzle you with some offense and all the bells and whistles associated with a new stadium.

They don’t need any more bad PR. They’ve lost too many games. Attendance has spiraled. On top of the controversial move to Cobb County, which is complicated by expected traffic and parking problems, the organization announced a policy change that would prevent fans from bringing food into the stadium (masked as a “security” issue). But there was a backlash so they made a fast U-turn.

This is an organization that really hasn’t tried to win for a while. That’s not a shot at players, managers, coaches or scouts. It’s merely the reality of misdirection sound bites from the front office in the past few years and the detached decision-making from the billionaire bean counters at Liberty Media.

The Braves are less about baseball than they are about real estate. They’ve built ballparks in Cobb and minor-league towns, squeezing hundreds of millions of dollars in public money from fan-boy politicians. They left downtown Atlanta, going completely against the trend of pro sports teams staying or moving in town, so they could become commercial real estate landlords with restaurants and retail space around SunTrust Park.

They will draw a lot of fans this season, at least early, because the stadium will be the attraction. But they need to start winning because that won’t last. It needs to be about baseball. It needs to be about winning. But winning follows good pitching and that might be a problem this season.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Atlanta Braves

Freeman’s 9th-inning homer gives Braves a wild win at Milwaukee
Freeman’s 9th-inning homer gives Braves a wild win at Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE – After the Braves twice rallied from four-run deficits without any contributions from Freddie Freeman, the big first baseman came through when it counted most Friday night. Freeman’s two-run homer to center field in the ninth inning lifted the Braves to a 10-8 series-opening win against the Brewers at Miller Park, the third consecutive...
After solid spring, Braves’ Bonifacio has floundered
After solid spring, Braves’ Bonifacio has floundered

MILWAUKEE – After going to Braves spring training as a non-roster invitee and earning an opening-day roster spot, Emilio Bonifacio seemed poised to get his career back on track following two dismal seasons at the major league level in 2015 and 2016. But 20 games into the season, Bonifacio was struggling to get into a rhythm and had fared particularly...
Braves’ Phillips misses second start
Braves’ Phillips misses second start

MILWAUKEE – Brandon Phillips was out of the Braves lineup Friday night for the second consecutive game since straining his left groin, but the veteran second baseman had progressed and was expected to start Saturday in the second game of the three-game series against the Brewers. “He’s doing good,” said Braves manager Brian...
Braves’ TV ratings are up sharply this season
Braves’ TV ratings are up sharply this season

The Braves are drawing sharply higher local TV ratings than a year ago. Through their first 17 telecasts on Fox Sports South and Fox Sports Southeast, the Braves’ ratings increased 64 percent in the Atlanta TV market compared to the same point last season, from a 1.4 average rating then to a 2.3 this season. That includes a 73 percent jump for...
Dickey doesn’t think injury will affect next start
Dickey doesn’t think injury will affect next start

NEW YORK – R.A. Dickey’s first start back at Citi Field since his Mets heyday ended sooner than he expected because of a quadriceps spasm, but the 42-year-old knuckleballer was nonetheless pleased with the results in a 7-5 win Thursday that gave the Braves a two-game sweep of the Mets. Dickey gave up five hits and three runs (two earned)...
More Stories