The Braves are one-third of the way through the season and, maybe more importantly, they are less than seven weeks from the trade deadline.
The time frame is important to point out because they just opened a stretch that will see them play 18 of the next 21 games at home, beginning with four against the Philadelphia Phillies, who aren’t so much an opponent as they are a needed comedic interlude.
It might’ve been a perfect setup for the Braves if not for the unfortunate timing of Monday’s game coinciding with Bartolo Colon’s turn in the rotation. Colon allowed three runs on a single, double and home run in succession in the first inning. Then the Phillies scored again in the third and five times in the fourth to take a 9-0 lead. The Phillies. The Phillies! Colon allowed eight runs in 3 2/3 innings to see his ERA balloon to 7.78 (including 10.03 over his last eight starts).
You were looking for a good sign from the Braves. But Bartolo Colon man doesn’t spark winning streaks. He looks for angels toting good vibes and steps on their souls.
As for the Braves and where they may be headed: It’s dangerous to make absolute statements about a baseball team in early June. But I believe the odds are with me on this: The Braves are likely to have their season defined over these next few weeks.
They were 24-30 to open the homestand. They likely need to win at least four of these next six series — four of the six opponents have losing records — to stay within a hint of the wild card race. Otherwise this thing realistically will be over before Freddie Freeman returns from a broken wrist in late July.
“I won’t say it’s going to define our season, but it’s going to define what kind of team we are, what kind of players we have” second baseman Brandon Phillips said. “I feel like this month is really going to surprise a lot of people or …”
“… the other way.”
About the other way: That was the way to be. The Braves were projected in sports books to lose 90 games. They began the home stand on pace to lose 90 games. Pretty close.
The front office needs to make a decision on where they believe this team is headed before Freeman’s return because it impacts the future. The non-waiver trade deadline is July 21. Freeman likely won’t be back until at least a week later. You see the problem.
If there’s a strong belief that the Braves will not scramble back into the National League wild card race — and they were closer to the last-place Phillies (5 games) than No. 2 Arizona (7 ½ games) to start the week — management might as well blow it up. Relatively speaking. Again.
There are at least eight veterans who are candidates to be traded, including the remains of Colon. He signed a one-year $12.5 million contract. He will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. That assumes he won’t be an unrestricted free agent in five minutes.
The New York Mets could be convinced that bringing back Colon might revive him. But they’re the Mets. They live for expensive coin flips.
Here are seven other players who could be traded (which is to not suggest they all will go). In order of salary:
— Outfielder Matt Kemp ($21.5 million per year through 2019, with $18 million annually being paid by the Braves): Kemp has revived his career in Atlanta, hitting .306 with 22 home runs in 100 games, and has provided protection for Freeman. But committing up to $48 million to one player for a team that may not contend for a title over the next two and a half seasons could be tough.
— Second baseman Brandon Phillips ($14 million; Braves paying only $1 million): He’ll be a free agent after the season and won’t be re-signed. The fact he went to high school in Stone Mountain and has a no-trade clause with a $500,000 kicker if he does accept a deal could make a trade problematic.
— Pitcher Jaime Garcia ($12 million): He has been the Braves’ most consistent starter (3.18 ERA) and he’s an unrestricted free agent after the season. The market for him will be significant.
— Outfielder Nick Markakis ($10.5 million this season, same in 2018): He’s hitting .283, has been a productive player and has value in the trade market.
— Pitcher Julio Teheran ($6.3 million this season, signed through 2020): He has been huge disappointment this season (5.40 ERA, staff-high 14 homers allowed), but the Braves would be dealing him when his trade stock is low. He’s only 26 years old and the team could get burned down the line if he bounces back.
— Reliever Jim Johnson ($4.5 million this season, same in 2018): He’s the team’s closer but is expendable and an attractive bullpen option for any contender.
— First baseman Matt Adams ($2.8 million): He was acquired as a stop-gap for Freeman and he has shown great power but he struggles in the outfield defensively and he’s headed for a raise in arbitration. He’s a perfect fit for an American League team.
So the Braves may be a popular team before the trade deadline. Just not the way any Atlanta fan would have preferred.