Three months ago, on April 4, Atlanta Braves fans were fairly sure that their favorite team wasn’t going to give them much to cheer in a 2015 season that was scheduled to start two days later.
Then, on April 5, the Braves traded away their most dominant player – closer Craig Kimbrel. It was a move that shocked fans on the eve of the new season, but one most understood was a smart decision anyway.
This Braves team – one that was forecast by Sports Illustrated to be among the worst in Major League Baseball – is at the halfway point of the 2015 season with a 40-41 record. For the better part of the last 25 years, Braves fans have been spoiled by really good teams, yet this year’s sub-.500 play has been easy to swallow, and should be considered remarkable so far.
Atlanta has shuffled some 47 players in and out of its active roster, and manager Fredi Gonzalez has used a different lineup in nearly every game. The slew of young talent that has seen short stints in the majors has actually been pretty good, and that’s helping this squad stay above water in the National League’s Eastern Division.
It has proven that general manager John Hart’s complete rebuild of this franchise is working in the early stages. He’s molded the farm system back into shape, and the kids are slowly getting eased into the Show. Guys like Matt Wisler, who has started three games and won twice, will eventually be handed the keys to a franchise, but should not be performing this well, so soon.
Up until now, the focus has been on 2017 and getting the franchise back into contention by the time the new stadium opens. It’s hard to look that far ahead when the product in front of our faces has been so pleasant.
Now, the Braves must decide where they go from here. Do they continue to sell off good pieces, like Chris Johnson and Cameron Maybin, for more prospects? Do they (gasp!) attempt to make a few trades before the July 31 deadline to bring in a couple more good ballplayers to make a playoff run this year?
Shooting for the postseason might be talking a little crazy, and I doubt Hart is looking in that direction. But no matter what happens down the stretch, the first half of the regular season has been a treat for Braves fans to take in, and should be seen as a positive preview of much better things to come.
Photo: AP/John Bazemore