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Welcome Home, Charlie Browns: An Atlanta Braves preview

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A look ahead at the worst team in baseball

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

If you looked at the standings exactly one year ago, on the morning of July 8, 2015, you might have concluded that the Atlanta Braves were very much in the National League playoff picture. They were a mere 4 games behind Washington in the National League East and within a similar striking distance of the Cubs for the second wild card slot. The team was showing fight, but their respectable .500 record was a house of cards. Fortunately, Atlanta's front office was too level-headed to buy into the mirage and invested very little in augmenting the team.

Sure enough, everything came crashing down in spectacular fashion. The Braves won just 25 of their final 78 contests, including a particularly futile 20-game stretch in which they won just once. The 95-loss campaign demanded a reconstruction of the roster and on October 1, 2015, Atlanta promoted John Coppolella to general manager. Coppolella had long been considered GM material and he was getting his big chance to serve as the architect of the Braves' future.

"Coppy" didn't waste much time before executing his first major move. In mid-November, otherworldly defensive shortstop Andrelton Simmons was dealt to the Angels for Erick Aybar and two well-regarded pitching prospects. As a reasonably cheap, reasonably young player at a premium position locked up for the next five seasons, Simmons was an odd player for a rebuilding team to deal. We're years away from passing judgment on the move, but the Braves placed a massive bet on the future of two young arms. The punchless Aybar has been spending his lone season with Atlanta as one of the five or so worst hitters in all of baseball, sneakily helping his new employer improve its draft prospects.

Whatever one's thoughts on the Simmons move, Coppolella more than made up for whatever shortcomings it had by pulling off the heist of the offseason. He traded the three arbitration seasons of above-average starting pitcher Shelby Miller to the Diamondbacks for stellar defensive outfielder Ender Inciarte, Aaron Blair (Arizona's top pitching prospect), and the first overall pick from the 2015 draft, Dansby Swanson. The return was flat-out absurd, and to add insult to injury, Miller's ERA with the Diamondbacks has been close to seven.

Thanks to these and other recent prospect acquisitions, the future for the Braves is looking bright. Their present, however, is hideous. The Braves have employed a woefully underqualified set of position players that includes has-beens (Aybar), a never-will-be with nearly 4,000 plate appearances in the minors and abroad (Adonis Garcia), a disproportionate crop of ex-White Sox, and the hallmark of a sad team with no aspirations, Jeff Francoeur. After legitimate star Freddie Freeman, their two most dangerous offensive players have been Tyler Flowers and Gordon Beckham. That's a tragic sentence.

The most significant problem with the Braves' offense has been a glaring lack of power. They're last in baseball in homers by a hilariously wide margin; the Orioles have hit nearly three times as many. Freeman's done his share by belting 14. Second place is Flowers with six, and he only plays half the games. Aybar, Inciarte, and A.J. Pierzynski have combined for just two bombs in over 600 plate appearances. Even right fielder Nick Markakis has hit just two out of the park while starting all but three games. It's easy to see why Flowers -- a player ushered out of Chicago for his frustrating offense -- has batted cleanup eight times for the Braves this year; he's somehow been the best choice.

The Braves' pitching has been better than the offense basically by default, but it's still been decidedly below-average. It'll look even worse in this series, as the Sox will miss nominal ace Julio Teheran. Righty second starter Matt Wisler is a League Average Innings Muncher (LAIM) on a team that desperately needs innings munched. Wisler is a fastball-slider pitcher without any tertiary pitches that don't get murdered by baseball bats. The slider is his only swing-and-miss offering, but the total package is respectable.

Given that the Braves are a bad team that's already dealt away one starter (Bud Norris), had another get injured (Williams Perez), and had another demoted after getting pummeled (Blair), you just know that there's some 40-man roster fodder (including old friend Lucas Harrell!) filling out Atlanta's rotation. Therefore, the Sox will have the good fortune of facing two punching bags. 27-year-old Joel De La Cruz is an uninspiring Triple-A starter that made his major league debut a couple weeks ago and really doesn't belong here. He only throws a sinker, cutter, and changeup, none of which have enough movement to foil major league hitters. Mike Foltynewicz is a roster yo-yo that throws the ball really hard and gets hit really hard; for his career, he's allowed about two home runs per nine innings. That rate would be tough to overcome for an otherwise great pitcher, let alone Mike Foltynewicz.

The astonishingly high number of unremarkable players and all the losing makes the 2016 Atlanta Braves a tough watch. Freeman has slugged on admirably, Teheran is having himself a good year, effectively wild closer Arodys Vizcaino looks like he could be a bullpen ace, and there's plenty of reason to root for Inciarte to recapture the glory of his 2015 season. Unless you like watching pitch framing or utility guys having short bursts of success, that's about it for the excitement.

Fortunately, excitement isn't what this team was supposed to be about and this Braves team isn't here to entertain you. This is the second of several necessary lean years before Coppolella and his team make a real push to build something formidable with the considerable stock of quality minor leaguers they've assembled. Right now, they're just getting a foundation together. With Freeman, Teheran, Inciarte, Swanson, and Vizcaino set to be here for a long time, it appears to be a sturdy one.

Projected Record and Finish:

5th place, NL East

Probable Starting Pitchers

  • Friday, July 8: Chris Sale vs. Matt Wisler
  • Saturday, July 9: Jose Quintana vs. Joel De La Cruz Julio Teheran (ugh)
  • Sunday, July 10: James Shields vs. Mike Foltynewicz

Probable Lineup

Pitching

1. Jace Peterson - 2B

SP1. Julio Teheran - RHP

2. Ender Inciarte - CF

SP2. Matt Wisler - RHP

3. Freddie Freeman - 1B

SP3. Mike Foltynewicz - RHP

4. Nick Markakis - DH

SP4. Joel De La Cruz - RHP

5. Jeff Francoeur - LF

SP5. Lucas Harrell - RHP

6. Tyler Flowers - C

CL. Arodys Vizcaino - RHP

7. Adonis Garcia - 3B

RP1. Jim Johnson - RHP

8. Chase d'Arnaud - RF

RP2. Hunter Cervenka - LHP

9. Erick Aybar - SS

RP3. Chris Withrow - RHP