Braves by Decade: 2010s Atlanta Braves, Part Two

While the 2010s rolled merrily along, the Atlanta Braves searched for a new spark. A disappointing 2014 campaign showed that new blood was needed. General Manager Frank Wren was fired in September of that year. His replacement, John Hart, immediately set about on a rebuild. The farm system was a shambles and needed life pumped into it. So, trades began to happen. Sending fan favorites away may have been distressing, but it led to success. The long term began to look very good for Atlanta. A bright future, peppered by new superstars was on the horizon.

Unfortunately, fans would have to sit through the repair process. Much like computers and cars, baseball teams often need tweaking. The mid-2010s Braves were no exception. Life would be miserable for fans over three seasons. Yet, the final two of the decade were filled with the successes of the 1990s. Young players like Ronald Acuna Jr., Dansby Swanson, and Ozzie Albies were direct results of the rebuild. However, before victory comes defeat, Freddie Freeman helped lead the team through the troublesome time. This is the story of the Atlanta Braves ultimate resurrection during the 2010s.

Braves by Decade: 2010s Atlanta Braves, Part Two

2015: The Atlanta Braves Begin Rebuilding for the Second Half of the 2010s

In 2015, the team sought to break everything down. In light of this, the team wasn’t expected to do much. They definitely met those expectations. A 67-95 record was the franchise’s worst since 1990. Once more, the team turned into a Frankenstein’s monster. Old stars like A.J. Pierzynski and Jonny Gomes were brought in to shore things up. New players like Jace Peterson and Adonis Garcia were given their first chances. Overall, the offense and pitching were awful. The team hit .251, pitched to a 4.41 ERA, and struck out over 1,100 times.

That’s not to say that there weren’t any bright spots, though. Pierzynski hit .300 with 122 hits. Freeman led the team with 18 homers. New Braves Cameron Maybin and Nick Markakis had solid seasons as well. However, the biggest story was the team’s acquisition of Shelby Miller. His 2015 has to be one of the unluckiest in pitching history. After going 5-1 through his first eight starts, he lost 16 in a row. Despite being the team’s only All-Star, he led the league in losses. However, his 3.02 ERA was near the top ten. Then, he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the offseason. The package returned the aforementioned Swanson, Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair. Pitcher Gabe Speier was also traded with Miller to the Dbacks.

2016: A Painful, But Necessary, Process

In 2016, the rebuild continued. However, change did not just affect the players. After an abysmal 9-28 start, manager Fredi Gonzalez was let go. Brian Snitker attempted to come in and right the ship. His 59-65 record was a definite improvement. That being said, divine intervention couldn’t help this team. The offense was terrible with Freeman being the only bright spot. He played to a .302 average, 34 homers, 91 RBI, 178 hits, and a 157 OPS+. Midseason pickup Matt Kemp paid some dividends (.280 avg, 12 HR, 39 RBI, 56 games). Other than that, the offense was forgettable.

The pitching was even worse. A 4.51 ERA was 11th in the league. Tabbed as the ace, Julio Teheran won a meager seven contests. However, his 3.21 ERA and 129 ERA+ were both solid. Young pitchers like Mike Foltynewicz, Aaron Blair, and Matt Wisler couldn’t cut the mustard. They combined to go 18-25 with a 5.28 ERA. The bullpen was only marginally better. Jim Johnson and Arodys Vizcaino combined to save 30 games. Breakout hurler Hunter Cervenka pitched to a 3.18 ERA. However, all around, the staff continued to show signs of the ongoing rebuild.

2017: New Ballpark, Same Results

In 2017, small sparks began flying as the team moved into SunTrust Park. The team finished 72-90, but some bright spots began to emerge. Inciarte was spectacular, hitting .304 with 201 hits in 157 games. Freeman had another incredible campaign (.307/.403/.586, 28 HR, 135 H, 155 OPS+). Kemp had 19 homers, while catcher Tyler Flowers had 12 and hit .281. Brandon Phillips, who was acquired by the team from the Cincinnati Reds, hit .291 with 137 hits. All in all, while they still lacked power, the offense was showing better signs. They finished fourth in the National League in hits and average.

However, the pitching continued to struggle. Former Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey posted a 10-10 mark with a 4.26 ERA. It would end up being his final season in the big leagues. The Braves also brought in Bartolo Colon. Unfortunately, a 2-8 mark with an ERA over eight caused minds to change quickly. Finally, the bullpen experienced a major backslide. Johnson was nowhere near as effective (5.56 ERA, 79 ERA+). Slowly, Vizcaino became the team’s closer, posting a 2.83 ERA with 14 saves. Sam Freeman broke out with a 2-0 mark and a 2.55 ERA in relief. His 171 ERA+ led the regular relievers. Other than that, the staff was somewhat forgettable.

2018: The Braves Head Back To The Postseason

Then, in 2018, the future finally came to pass for the Atlanta Braves, as the 2010s neared a close. The team won its first division title since 2013. New players like Albies, Acuna, and Johan Camargo made their mark. Albies crushed 24 homers with 167 hits. Camargo hit .272 with 19 long balls and 126 hits. However, the real story was Ronald Acuna Jr. His Rookie of The Year campaign was tremendous. He hit .293 with 26 homers, 127 hits, and 16 stolen bases. The offense was bolstered by reliable veterans like Freeman and Markakis. In short, they placed near the top of the league in many categories.

The pitching was much improved as well. Foltynewicz found a spark, ultimately earning an All-Star nod. His 2.85 ERA was sixth in the league. However, the year was marked by the resurgence of Anibal Sanchez. The righty went 7-6 with a 2.83 ERA and a 144 ERA+. Solid years from Teheran and Sean Newcomb helped stabilize the rotation. As for the bullpen, it turned in one of its best seasons in years. Vizcaino saved 16 games with a 2.11 ERA. Young Brave A.J. Minter had 15 saves of his own. Finally, Jesse Biddle and Dan Winkler shored up the middle innings. Unfortunately, all this talent wasn’t enough. They lost in the National League Divisional Series (NLDS) to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

2019: Doubling Up on Division Titles

In 2019, the Braves repeated as National League East champions. Once more, it was the offense that led them. The team’s home run mark (249) was their best since 2006. Acuna led the way, smashing 41 bombs. He also drove in 100 runs and stole 37 bases. It was the team’s first 30/30 season since Ron Gant in 1991. Not to be outdone, Freeman crushed 38 homers with 121 RBI. Finally, newcomer Josh Donaldson hit 37 out of the park. In short, this was the most powerful Braves offense in more than a decade.

The pitching had its share of ups and downs, though. Young hurlers Mike Soroka and Max Fried performed as advertised. Soroka pitched to a 2.68 ERA with a 173 ERA+. Fried won 17 contests. Midseason pickup Dallas Keuchel had some success (8-8, 3.75 ERA). Unfortunately, pitchers like Foltynewicz and Kevin Gausman backslid significantly. Thankfully, the young arms were there to pick them up. A solid bullpen helped push the team back to the postseason. Unfortunately, the bug bit once again. They lost in the NLDS to the St. Louis Cardinals.

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Players Mentioned: Ronald Acuna Jr., Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, A.J. Pierzynski, Jonny Gomes, Jace Peterson, Adonis Garcia, Cameron Maybin, Nick Markakis, Shelby Miller, Ender Inciarte, Aaron Blair, Gabe Speier, Matt Kemp, Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, Matt Wisler, Jim Johnson, Arodys Vizcaino, Hunter Cervenka, Tyler Flowers, Brandon Phillips, R.A. Dickey, Bartolo Colon, Sam Freeman, Johan Camargo, Anibal Sanchez, Sean Newcomb, A.J. Minter, Jesse Biddle, Dan Winkler, Ron Gant, Josh Donaldson, Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Dallas Keuchel, Kevin Gausman.

Managers Mentioned: Fredi Gonzalez, Brian Snitker.