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Braves Better Than Expected in 2016

October 4, 2016
Hugh Atkins

Hugh Atkins

The Atlanta Braves finished the 2016 season in last place in the National League Eastern Division with a record of 68-93 and 26.5 games out of first; but it could have been much worse.

The Braves got out of the gate with a 9-28 record that led to the firing of manager Fredi Gonzalez. At the time of Gonzalez’s departure, the Braves were on pace to lose 123 games, which would have been the most in the history of modern baseball.

While it stood to reason the Braves would not lose quite that many games, they seemed certain to lose over 100 games for the first time since 1988 when they dropped 108 and finished 39.5 games out of first place. The Braves played somewhat better under new manager Brian Snitker, but their record at the end of July was only 37-68, which put them on pace to lose 105 games. But a funny thing happened over the last two months of the season; the Braves started playing decent baseball.

From August 1 through the end of the season, the Braves went 31-25. They were 17-10 in September and won 12 of their final 14 games. All talk of the Braves just phoning it in to get the top pick in the amateur draft vanished.

© T.C.G.

© T.C.G.

The turnaround by the Braves coincided with their acquisition of Matt Kemp from the San Diego Padres. Kemp, who came to the team with a decent 23 homers, 69 RBIs, and .262 average, slammed 10 home runs, drove in 35 runs, and hit .280 after the trade. Hitting fourth in the lineup seemed to spur on Freddie Freeman, who hit .358 with eight homers and 29 RBIs in his final 30 games and was the National League Player of the Month for September. Freeman finished the season at .302 with 34 home runs and 91 RBIs.

Ender Inciarte got off to a slow start due to an injury, but Snitker put him in the leadoff spot late in the season and he hit .317 over his last 30 games to finish at .291. He played excellent defense in center field, as well.

Right fielder, Nick Markakis, hit 13 home runs and quietly drove in 89 runs and third baseman, Adonis Garcia, provided plenty of pop batting second in the order; he hit 12 homers and drove in 65 runs.

Another key to the Braves’ improvement was the promotion of shortstop Dansby Swanson. After joining the Braves on August 17, Swanson hit .302 with three home runs and 17 RBIs. His play at short steadily improved to the point that the Detroit Tigers will have nightmares about his glove work all winter long.

The Braves started holding onto leads late in the game thanks to the resurgence of closer, Jim Johnson. In his final 30 appearances, Johnson notched 18 of his 20 saves for the season and struck out 39 batters in 30 1/3 innings; his ERA over that stretch was 1.48. Johnson was so impressive that the Braves signed him to a two-year deal during the final weekend of the season.

After such a dismal start, when the dust finally settled on the 2016 season, not only had the Braves avoided 100 losses, but they also wound up winning one more game than they did last season.

Obviously, the Braves still have their work cut out for them to be a contender in 2017 when they move up the road to their new park. But with their strong finish, the Braves left their fans with some reason to feel optimistic during the long off-season.

The Giants Are Not a Dynasty

Let me go ahead and get this out of the way right now. The San Francisco Giants are back in the postseason as the second Wild Card team. They travel to the Big Apple to play the New York Mets this Wednesday. If they make it all the way through the postseason and win another World Series title, they will have won four Series in the last seven seasons. But that doesn’t make them a dynasty.

The Giants won the National League West in 2010 and had the second best record in the league on their way to the World Series title. They finished in second place in 2011 with the fifth-best record in the league and did not make the playoffs. They won the West again in 2012, tied with the Braves for the third-best record in the league, and went on to win the World Series. They did not make the playoffs in 2013 as they finished fourth in the West with a record of 76-86. In 2014 they finished in second place in the West with the fifth-best record in the league, but that was good enough for the second Wild Card spot. They got hot at the right time and won another World Series title.

© T.C.G.

© T.C.G.

While it certainly is impressive to win three World Series titles in five years, they are not even close to being a dynasty. If they had won five straight division titles and strung together three straight World Series wins like the Oakland Athletics (1971-1975 for the division titles and 1972-1974 for the Series), then we could talk about a dynasty. A dynasty does not skip the postseason every other year, especially in this era of the watered-down playoff system.

And while I’m at it, unless Madison Bumgarner pitches at least three complete games and wins them all like Lew Burdette did in 1957 and Mickey Lolich did in 1968, he will not have turned in the “most dominant performance in World Series history.” Even if Bumgarner pulls off three complete-game wins, two of them would have to be shutouts, with his final 24 innings being scoreless for him to match Burdette. And even Burdette’s magnificent performance did not measure up to the three starts, three complete games, and three shutouts by Christy Mathewson in the 1905 Fall Classic.

The Giants have been a good team for four of the last seven seasons; but a dynasty they are not and Madison Bumgarner’s performance in 2014 was not the most dominant in World Series history.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 5, 2016 12:42 pm

    That Jim Johnson signing may turn out to bite you in the butt….fools gold.
    I agree with the Giants not being a dynasty; and the Bumgarner talk of being the “greatest postseason pitcher of all time” just goes to show you how little regard the populace (talking heads) has for history or fact. 20 years from now it’ll be some other guy.


  2. October 5, 2016 2:28 pm

    If the Braves think they have a real closer in Johnson then they likely are in for a rude awakening. Used as a setup guy and for an occasional save, he might be OK. Hey, here’s a thought. Maybe Darold Knowles is the “greatest postseason pitcher of all time.” He’s the only pitcher to appear in all seven games of a Series (’73) and he didn’t give up a run while picking up two saves. No, that’s absurd–just like comparing Bumgarner to Mathewson, Burdette, and Lolich (not to mention Gibson). Thanks for the comments.


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