The Atlanta Braves’ 2016 campaign was doomed before it even started. It took them 32 games to get to eight wins, and that eighth win came on May 11. Manager Fredi Gonzalez was fired just six days later.
But things have started to turn. Atlanta’s last eight wins took just 11 games to achieve in what has been a truly entertaining stretch of baseball. They’ve been as good as this roster can possibly be, anchored by strong pitching that has been, finally, complemented by some timely hitting.
Over the past 12 games, the Braves’ bullpen has been phenomenal, boasting a 1.01 ERA in 35 2/3 innings pitched. Opponents are batting just .179 against Atlanta’s relievers, and they’ve stranded all 18 baserunners they’ve inherited.
Five of those eight wins have come against the New York Mets, and the Braves haven’t skated by against back-of-the-rotation guys, either. They’ve beaten the likes of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez during this hot streak.
Since the Braves fired Gonzalez and named Brian Snitker interim manager, the team has posted a 17-21 record. That’s hardly good, but when that mark is compared to the team’s 9-28 record prior to the Gonzalez firing, there’s plenty of improvement.
In just 11 games, the Braves have gone from 21.5 games behind the division-leading Washington Nationals to 17.5 games back. In that same span, they’ve gone from 11.5 games behind the fourth-place Philadelphia Phillies to just five games back. There’s little reason for the Braves to watch the Nationals in the standings, but if they can climb out of dead-last in what was supposed to be a lost season, it would be a minor moral victory.
Up next is one of the few teams that are hotter than the Braves – the Cleveland Indians. They’ve won nine straight and will come to Turner Field for a three-game series that starts Monday night. The Indians lead the American League Central by five games, posting a better record so far than the defending champion Kansas City Royals.
If you haven’t been watching this team lately, it’s high time that you started. The young talent is beginning to arrive, and they’re becoming more fun to watch. But there will be plenty more times when the Braves stumble as they slowly grow up, so when there are flashes of competent baseball, fans should enjoy them.
Maybe we could pretend this week’s series against the Indians is our World Series. We’re 1-0 against Cleveland in that.
Photo: AP/John BazemoreFollow @Sean_Breslin