Opening Day for the Braves on Monday was a mixed bag as Atlanta lost to the New York Mets on the road Monday, 6-0.
Julio Teheran tossed six scoreless innings in his season debut, walking three while striking out six and allowing just four hits. But, in the inning following Teheran’s strong start, the Braves were forced to use four relievers just to get through the seventh inning. That six-run debacle unsettled Atlanta’s inaugural game of 2017.
Atlanta’s offense was similarly bipolar.
Freddie Freeman continued a torrid spring by going 3 for 4 with a triple. But, of the Braves’ seven hits, none were with runners on second or third base (0 for 6 with RISP).
One game in the landscape of 162 is way too small a sample size to freak out, or puff out chests for that matter. But it won’t stop us from making some bold predictions for the rest of the season.
Here are nine bold predictions for the Braves in 2017:
- 7 Braves’ Hitters Will Blast Double-Digit Homers
Freeman led the way for the Braves last season with 34 home runs. Matt Kemp actually had 35 for the season, but only 12 after he landed in Atlanta. Adonis Garcia and Nick Markakis had 14 and 13, respectively to give the team four players in double digits in 2016.
Why 33 percent more, and who will bring the power in 2017?
- Freddie Freeman
- Matt Kemp
- Nick Markakis
- Adonis Garcia
- Brandon Phillips
- Tyler Flowers
- Dansby Swanson
Forget about Freeman’s 2015 injury-shortened season for the purposes of this debate. But look back at 2014 and examine the huge increase in home runs. Some of this happened as Freeman increased his flyball rate from 32.5 percent to 40.5 percent.
Kemp improved his home run to at-bat ratio from 17.8 to 16.5 and saw his OPS improve to .855 from .774 upon his arrival with the Braves. Markakis went from three to 13 homers from 2015 to 2016, showing that with health comes his typical 12-15 home run stroke.
Garcia has never spent a season (he’s only been up for two, however) in the bigs without reaching double digit dingers, and Flowers, although he’s missed double digits for the last two seasons, should eclipse his eight from 2016 with an increase from 325 plate appearances.
Swanson hit three home runs last season but only stepped to the plate 145 times. With 600 plate appearances, the rookie could hit 12 dingers. He hit nine home runs last season in his combined 470 minor-league plate appearances.
Also, don’t forget that the outfield walls are a little closer in key areas at SunTrust Park. The left-centerfield wall stands 375 feet from home plate compared to 380 at Turner Field. The right-centerfield wall is a whopping 15 feet closer than Turner (that’s a big deal for Braves’ lefty mashers) and the right-field foul pole is 325 instead of Turner Field’s 330. Be careful though, to make up for being closer to the plate, the right field wall stands 16 feet tall.
- The Rise of the Rookies Will Begin &
- Three Members of the Braves’ 2020 rotation Will Start 10 Games in 2017
When first pitch happened Monday, Swanson was the only rookie on the 25-man roster. By season’s end – maybe even earlier – he won’t be alone.
It’s no secret the Braves’ front office rebuilt this organization and now own the game’s best farm system. Rebuilding is never easy, nor quick, and 2017 will be the season the gates from the minors will open.
To join Swanson as a position player, Ozzie Albies will be promoted to Atlanta and he won’t go back to the minors. It’s easy to say that’ll happen in September, but I’m thinking it’ll happen earlier.
Albies won’t be the only rookie. The starting rotation will add a rookie in the form of lefty Sean Newcomb. And here’s the bold part of this Newcomb prediction: Three starting pitchers who will compose the 2020 Braves’ rotation will make at least 10 starts in 2017 for Atlanta: Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Newcomb.
- Swanson Will Win NL Rookie of the Year
Speaking of rookies, the gem of the Shelby Miller trade will shine brightly in 2017.
The 23-year-old shortstop notched 99 plate appearances in his first year as a pro on 2015. Of his 24 hits in Low-A ball, 11 went for extra bases and he walked as much as he struck out.
When he reached the bigs with Atlanta, Swanson slashed .302/.361/.442 in 38 games, but we tend to forget the 105 games of 2016 he spent in the minors. Swanson knocked nine homers, drove in 55 runs and stole 13 bases in 470 plate appearances spread between Advanced-A Carolina and Double-A Mississippi.
Swanson was the top pick of the 2015 draft, the Braves top prospect of 2016 and enters the 2017 season as the top candidate for NL Rookie of the Year. He hasn’t disappointed at any stage of his baseball career, and he won’t start now.
- Freeman Will Top 100 RBI &
- Freeman Won’t Be the Only Braves Hitter to Do So
- Freeman’s HR Total Will Fall, He’ll Still Make a Legit MVP Run
In his five full seasons (doesn’t include his 2010 call-up or 2016 when he lost 44 games to injury) Freeman has averaged 90 RBI per season and eclipsed the century mark once with 109 RBI in 2013. Freeman just entered his second season with 100-plus RBI Monday.
Freeman improved his extra-base hit total from 65 in 2015 to 83 last season. Also, go back above to read about Freeman’s improved flyball rate. And while Freeman’s bat has improved, there’s another reason to think he’ll drive in more runs this season.
Kemp hitting behind Freeman provides protection.
Freeman drove in 49 runs from Aug. 2 to the end of the season. That means 54 percent of his RBI came after Kemp arrived in Atlanta. And Kemp only played 56 games with the Braves. Imagine what a full season of Freeman and Kemp will bring.
The last time the Braves had a 100-plus RBI guy was in 2014 (Justin Upton).
The last time two hitters drove in 100 or more runs in a season was back in 1993 when Ron Gant and David Justice did it.
Freeman and Kemp will stop that 23-year drought.
Kemp seems to love hitting in Atlanta. Time will tell what his numbers look like after a season at SunTrust Park, but his RBI per plate appearance figure got slightly better (6.2 versus 6.25) upon his arrival from San Diego last season. And, with a healthy Markakis hitting behind Kemp, life in 2017 should get even better.
With more fly balls, more RBI and a better lineup in a better hitter’s ballpark, Freeman will absolutely compete for the NL MVP Award. He finished fifth in 2013 and sixth last season. He’ll either win it in 2017 or finish no lower than second.
- Ender Inciarte Will Lead the NL with 208 Hits
Inciarte played in 131 games last season and made it to the plate 578 times. That was a career high for him in plate appearances and only one fewer game than he’s ever played. To that point, Inciarte has never made it through an entire 162-game season.
The 2017 season will be the Gold Glove centerfielder’s first full season. And he’ll build off the way he finished 2016.
From Aug. 5 to through his final game, Inciarte was one of the better hitters in baseball with 73 hits. If you extrapolate his 73 base hits with the 246 plate appearances it took for him to amass those figures and then examine the notion that in 2017 he’ll reach his career best of 578 plate appearances, Inciarte will reach 172 hits.
What if he’s plays a full season and reaches 700 plate appearances?
In that case – what I’m predicting to be reality in 2017 – Inciarte will hit safely 208 times and lead the National League.
- The Braves Will Eclipse the .500 Mark
In the three seasons since the Braves went 96-66 in 2013, Atlanta has averaged 71.3 wins per season and not finished with more than 79.
While flirting with the postseason still might be a year away, maybe two, the Braves will absolutely jump above 81 wins in 2017. Go to Las Vegas and take the over (currently 73 ½) and bet big.