SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — From July 8, 2015 through July 24, 2016, the Atlanta Braves were 58-119 (25-53 in 2015 and 33-66 in 2016).
That’s... horrific. It’s a bit more than a full season’s worth of games played at a .328 winning percentage, the equivalent of a 53-109 full major-league season.
And then... the Braves played better. Much better. From July 26, 2016 through the end of the season they were 34-27. That was the second-best record in the N.L. East over that span (just 2½ games worse than the Nationals) and tied for third-best in the N.L. over that time period with the Dodgers (the Cubs were best at 44-18).
That’s... good. And just a bit over a year after they were left for dead in the division, the Braves might actually have a chance to be a decent team this year.
They have done so, in part, by getting... older. They have signed the two oldest pitchers in baseball, Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey. This is not as crazy as it sounds. Colon was a 3.4 bWAR pitcher in 2016 and seems like he could go on forever, despite not really looking much like a professional athlete. Dickey wasn’t very good for the Blue Jays last year, but he was decent for two years before that and as a knuckleballer, you never know just how long those guys are going to last. It might be that his stuff works better in the National League.
Added to these two is Julio Teheran, who doesn’t need to shoulder the whole load himself anymore, and Jaime Garcia, who Atlanta got from the Cardinals for prospects.
The Braves added Brandon Phillips, who doesn’t hit much anymore but should solidify the infield defense which has young star Dansby Swanson as a centerpiece at shortstop. Freddie Freeman is a very good player who had one of the best seasons no one noticed in 2016: .302/.400/.569, 34 home runs. 6.5 bWAR.
The Braves’ bullpen is probably their weakest spot. Jim Johnson returns as closer. He wasn’t bad last year, but in his career he’s followed really good years with really bad ones. Atlanta could try ex-Cub Arodys Vizcaino at closer if Johnson flops.
SunTrust Park will open this year, if anyone can actually get there. People who live in that area have told me that traffic is horrendous even without thousands of people trying to get to a baseball game. As of last month the team and Cobb County were still trying to figure all this out.
The Braves probably are a year away from even wild-card contention, but it would not surprise me if they made a run at the .500 mark this year.
By the time the Cubs face them, their season should have taken shape as the teams won’t meet until after the All-Star break.
July 17-18-19 at Atlanta
August 31, September 1-2-3 at Wrigley