When Atlanta fans learned that first baseman Freddie Freeman would miss eight to 10 weeks with a broken wrist last week, there was reason to believe the team should just pack it up and try again next year. The slugger was having an MVP time season.
I myself thought that; but the rest of the team hasn’t hung its heads one bit. Since Freeman went down, Atlanta has gone 3-2 including the game when Freeman left with the injury and two of those wins came against Gio Gonzales, Max Scherzer and the first-place Washington Nationals. So, is there still hope for this season, still reason to pay attention, still reason to watch and see if they Braves can make a postseason run?
Here are five reasons why:
5. Freeman will come back. This might be the most important point of my whole argument. Yes, Freeman is out for eight to 10 weeks plus the time it takes him to work through a rehab assignment, but he will return in 2017 and presumably with two more full months left in the season.
4. The rest of the clubhouse is stepping up. Literally, the whole lineup has been playing better without Freeman out there every night. How is this possible? Because the team wants to prove it can survive and it recognizes what Freeman’s bat meant on a nightly basis.
“This shows we’re willing to do anything it takes to win,” Braves outfielder Matt Kemp said. “Obviously, we’re going to miss Freddie, but we’ve got to get guys to step up. You can’t replace guys like Freddie Freeman, but you can play as good of baseball as you can until he comes back.”
Kemp has gone off in his last 10 games, batting .390 (16-for-41) with two home runs and seven RBI. Nick Markakis over the last 10 games? Batting .366 (15-for-41) with nine RBI. The Braves catchers, Kurt Suzuki and Tyler Flowers have combined for seven hits, three home runs and seven RBI in the last five games. The Braves haven’t had that kind of production from the catcher position since the Brian McCann days.
3. Matt Adams isn’t Freeman, but he’s no bum at first base either. Now in his sixth season, Adams has a .270 career batting average, 56 career homers and 217 RBI with a .314 on-base percentage. Yes, Freeman is in his eighth season and has 96 more home runs 323 more RBI and a career batting average of .290, but Adams has put up some nice numbers and has the pop the Braves are looking for at first base.
Adams’ two best seasons came in 2013 and 2014 where he hit 17 homers in ’13 and 15 long balls in ’14. He had almost identical averages those seasons, batting .284 and .288, respectively. After only playing in 60 games in 2015, Adams bounced back for a .249 average, 16 home runs and 54 RBI in 2016. At 28, Adams is still in the prime of his career and with more playing time in Atlanta then he was getting in St. Louis, he could find his swing from previous seasons soon.
2. The Braves’ front office is no longer in “blow it up” mode.
Ever since the John Hart-John Coppolella regime took over at the end of the 2014 season, they have been trying to clean up the big power, big money, big strikeout rate of players signed by former general manager, Frank Wren. Both John’s made their plan no secret, they were in full-on rebuild mode and wanted to get back to the Braves’ formula of the 90s. Build from within, stockpile the farm system with loads of talent and build around good pitching.
The Braves’ move to get Adams in a mid-game trade this past Saturday? Proof that it’s time to start putting the pieces together to win more at the big-league level. Coppolella said it himself after the trade, “This was something for our players and our fans. I think our ownership really stepped forward to take on money and to get a really good player. We’re trying to win right now. It’s something where we’ve played really good baseball the past two weeks, and we feel we have a chance to win each night. This will help make us better.”
So, Coppolella showing the fans and the clubhouse they are finally willing to make moves to make the team better right now and not a few years down the road? That’s reason for you to believe they will make more even moves to win more game THIS season.
1. It’s May, let’s not panic. The Braves’ season has been very streaky to begin the year. Three losing streaks of five games or more, plus a five-game win streak, a four-game win streak and the current stretch of games where the team has won five of its last seven games and seven of its last 10.
At 18-23 entering play Monday night, the Braves are 41 games in and they have 121 games left. I was asked today if I thought losing Freeman would result in the Braves losing 100 games this season. My answer? No. Atlanta would have to go 44-77 the rest of the season and that’s just not going to happen.
With the backing of the front office, the elevated play of his teammates and the continued support of the Braves fans, (I’m talking to the 90,000 of you who made it to SunTrust Park this past weekend), there is plenty of hope that the Braves aren’t just going to survive without Freeman, but that they might actually make a run at this year’s playoff race.
Entering play Monday night, Atlanta is in second in the National League East, seven games back of the Nationals and just six games back of the second Wildcard spot. At the end of the day, there is plenty of baseball left in 2017 and plenty of hope the Braves can keep on winning even without the team’s biggest bat in the lineup for the next two months.