After losing their first seven games of the 2016 season and going on to tie for the worst record in all of the National League (losing 93 games in all), no one honestly expected things to be much better in 2017 for the Braves, citing 2018 or later as the arrival of their top prospects and subsequent resurgence. But over the first few weeks of the offseason to this point, Atlanta has been building a decent rotation somewhat under-the-radar.
With a strong starting five going a long way in influencing the outcome of any given team’s season, the Braves began to stockpile their rotation with the signings of R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon in the middle of November. Although Dickey hasn’t been the same since winning the Cy Young award in 2012, with a 4.05 ERA over the course of 130 starts since, and despite the fact that Colon is set to turn 44 in May — making neither the dominant type of pitcher who will lead to an immediate turnaround — they are both proven pitchers who will provide the Braves with solid innings all season.
However, it was a pickup the Braves completed on Thursday that made people begin to talk about the legitimacy of their rotation. Acquiring Jaime Garcia from the Cardinals in exchange for a few mid-range prospects, Atlanta added yet another solid piece to their pitching staff. While Garcia fell off towards the end of 2016 after beginning the year in brilliant fashion, Garcia has been a great pitcher over the course of his career to this point, and should fit in nicely with the likes of Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz, as well as the aforementioned free agent pickups.
But while the Braves have greatly improved the rotation aspect of their team, and should subsequently improve upon their 4.51 team ERA from last season (especially with there still being rumors that they are pursuing a true ace of the staff), their bullpen remains a bit shaky. Jim Johnson was decent for them last season, and they have a few other pieces such as Mauricio Cabrera and Shae Simmons who will help out, but things haven’t been truly lights out since the loss of Craig Kimbrel to the Padres in 2015.
Even so, the Braves should be able to compete on a decent level if their lineup can produce. In 2016, Atlanta was 19th in team batting average and dead last in terms of collective home runs. But Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp (who saw a bounce back season in 2016) will likely be their All-Star selves again in 2017 and greatly contribute, with the Braves possessing a handful of other standout players.
From Dansby Swanson, who is looking to make good upon his stellar late-season campaign in 2016, to Nick Markakis, who has always been a good MLB player over his career, the Braves certainly have the pieces to make 2017 a year to remember.
Now they just have to put them all together.
In the end, the Braves still face a tough path in 2017. With the Nationals and Mets set to battle for who will win the division, leaving the Marlins to likely come in third, all signs point to it being between the Phillies and Braves for who will finish fourth and fifth.
But whether or not the Braves can stun the baseball world and finish any better than fourth in the National League East in 2017, the point is still clear: The Braves aren’t merely sitting around and waiting for their top, game-changing prospects to arrive over the course of the next few seasons.
For the Atlanta Braves, the time to win is right now.