With the MLB season winding down, and with the Atlanta Braves over halfway through their rebuild, the Braves are fast approaching the crossroads of their rebuild. The youth movement is finally happening, as guys like Sean Newcomb, Lucas Sims, Ozzie Albies, AJ Minter, Dansby Swanson, Rio Ruiz, Max Fried, Johan Camargo, and Luiz Gohara have infiltrated the Major League roster and begun their takeover. This has been welcome news to Braves fans ( in fact, the takeover seems to be progressing too slowly for many of us) in a season that, once again, has been a struggle at times to watch. Whether it’s been late callups, inadequate performance, curious exclusions (looking at you, Akeel Morris), overblown expectations, or simply impatient fans, Braves fans are anxiously awaiting the end of the rebuild and a return to the dynasties of the 90’s. While 2017 has been a step in the right direction, the importance of this season pales in comparison to the enormity of 2018. The fates of the front office, the hopes and dreams of Braves Country – they all rest on the outcome of next season.
The Next Step
If the Atlanta Braves hope to progress from “rebuilder” to “contender”, they MUST challenge for a playoff spot next season. They don’t necessarily have to win a playoff spot, but they must be in the race for one of the wildcard spots to have any hope of luring a big fish into Atlanta waters. That means they need to OBJECTIVELY look at the roster, find the holes, and plug them, regardless of where holes happen to be. If the manager can’t be convinced to stop using retreads like Jim Johnson and Rex Brothers in high leverage situations, then he doesn’t need to be the manager. If the young fireballer who cost a fan favorite to acquire can’t seem to progress in the rotation, move him to the bullpen. The Atlanta Braves have reached the point in the rebuild where harsh realities matter far more than fan perception and, to a certain extent, player input. It means finding the right balance of established starting pitching (hello, Lance Lynn) while also not holding back the kids who are ready to make this their team. It also means being willing to deal away one of these young men if a more beneficial opportunity presents itself.
Give up fewer runs. Fix the bullpen. Win more games. So easily said on the internet, but the minutiae is where the true story is told. Find the RIGHT pitching. Utilize the bullpen correctly for a change. Let young players overcome adversity without dragging down the team. Use the bench correctly. Improvements in each category – each of those with a thousand little subcategories that intersect and intertwine – can turn an average season into a solid season into a good season. It starts with making the correct decision on manager Brian Snitker, and, if necessary, the correct decision on his prospective replacement. Improvement requires bringing in a stabilizing element to the starting rotation, whether that be Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, or someone through trade. It means this front office must decide, once and for all, who really holds the reins to the organization in their hands: John Hart, John Schuerholz, and the good old boys of the “Braves Way”, or John Coppolella and the new breed of socially awkward saberstaticians whose gusto is mitigated sometimes by a lack of tact? Until the reported power struggle in the front office is resolved, nothing else can be addressed. Only one thing is sure: Braves’ fans are at a precipice, like someone jumping off a ledge into a pool of water waiting below. Let’s just hope the water is deep enough.