The Braves are Finally Making Baseball Fun Again in Atlanta
Truth be told, if you've known me for any length of time, you already know I grew up an Atlanta Braves fan.
So to make the statement the Braves are "Making Baseball Fun Again" to me has a ton of personal meaning. And yes, you can say I look at this story with some bias. But hey, this is my website, my column and lately it has been mostly my opinion and view on things.
If you had asked me in February if I thought the Atlanta Braves would be 28-17, 1.5 games ahead of their nearest competition in the National League East and with the NL's best overall record I would have laughed.
Sunday the Braves may have done the one thing they've not done for Atlanta in years. Give residents and fans a reason to be excited. They scored 6 runs in the bottom of the 9th inning Sunday afternoon against the Miami Marlins, turning a 9-4 deficit into a 10-9 walk-off win.
The past 4 or 5 years have been excruciating for Atlanta's baseball faithful with a complete structural rebuild of the team over that time period and some really, really bad baseball featuring guys like Matt Kemp trying to eat his way out of town, Erick Aybar who suddenly forgot how to hit a baseball and Hector Olivera who managed to arrive for reasons nobody could explain and played roughly 2-games.
Then there were the "Off Field" issues. In 2013, the team announced they'd leave Turner Field/Downtown Atlanta and build a ballpark and entertainment district on a narrow hillside in the Cobb County suburbs. The announcement landed like a ton of bricks and ticked off a lot of Intown Atlanta residents and fans. But the project got built and is showing signs of flourishing. Attendance was solid in season one, in season two it still struggles at times but the past couple weekend home series have shown tickets are getting harder to come by.
In 2017, the team caught the eye of Major League Baseball investigators when it was learned now former General Manager John Coppolella had um, taken some liberty's with MLB's International Player Free Agency rules. Coppolella was summarily not just fired, he is now one of 4 people banned from Major League Baseball----for life.
But....Coppolella did some things right. He jettisoned almost the entire high-paid, veteran roster he inherited from his predecessor Fran Wren. And set about rebuilding the Braves farm system, stocking it with a ton of young pitchers. And a few hitters.
It took a couple of years for those seeds to bear fruit but it now is happening. And Atlanta, perhaps the foremost fair weather fans on the planet---is beginning to notice.
The kids appear to be legit.
The current Braves roster is littered with ridiculously talented youngsters. Leadoff hitter Ozzie Albies is a product of the farm system. The 21-year old second baseman, all 5 feet 6 inches of him, has hit 13 home runs, leads the league in hits and extra base hits and is flawless in the field.
His best friend, 20-year old Ronald Acuna, bats second and is already striking fear in the hearts of pitchers and was the #1 Prospect in Baseball to begin this season.
A late April call-up to the Majors, Acuna doesn't always connect with the baseball. He is still learning, but when he does hit it, the ball flies off his bat like a rocket. 24-year old Dansby Swanson is in his second season at Shortstop. He's not tearing the cover off the ball, but is steady, a solid hitter and gobbles up everything hit within his reach.
24-year old Sean Newcomb is the breakout pitcher. Newcomb came over in a trade with the Angels and was advertised as a guy with great stuff and no control an issue that showed up late in 2017, when he got called up for his first taste of the big leagues. This year he looks like a veteran with a 5-1 record and cutting his walk rate in half.
There is a laundry list of players on the roster or in the upper levels of the minor leagues who make the future look even brighter. 3B Austin Riley is tearing up AA and AAA pitching this season, hitting over .300. Future OF Christian Pache is regarded as the best defensive outfield prospect in team history. He is also hitting around .300 at the age of 19 in Single A ball.
None of this even addresses 28-year old, 1B Freddie Freeman, arguably the best first baseman in all of baseball and a likely Hall of Fame candidate. Nor does it mention the solidly unspectacular 34-year old Nick Markakis having the best season he's had in nearly a decade. Or the Catching Combo of 30-somethings Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki who have grown into a seriously good hitting platoon and solid defenders.
The point I'm slowly trying to make here is this: There is for the first time in a very, very long time a palpable excitement over baseball in the City of Atlanta and the Atlanta Metro Area. A team with an incredibly long and storied past with an era of success unparalleled by most is finally showing signs of becoming relevant again. They are showing a pulse for the first time in recent memory.
They took a similar tack the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros have taken, walking back several steps before moving forward. The idea of tanking to get better a few years later is something being done in the NBA too. It's a painful process, hard to watch and for a fickle fan town like Atlanta, it led to a largely apathetic fan base who in many cases were flat angry and spoiled, assuming the Braves would always be pretty good, never great.
This group is likely to change that assumption, they're already in the process of making people here in The OSG Sports backyard re-think their perception of a once proud but stodgy old franchise. This team, the highest scoring team in the National League is winning games again. Lots of them.
They're attacking the game like a bunch of anxious 20-somethings. And having a blast doing it. Daringly aggressive base running, the best 1st inning team in baseball, the Braves appear to be for real in 2018. They show all the markings of a playoff level team. Maybe not a World Series team....this year but one that will be playing for that lofty title soon.
Very, very soon.....(MBFA---Making Baseball Fun Again!)