• Exclusives

    9 Reasons the Braves Should Be Very Fun to Watch

    SunTrust outfield rendering (600px)After two dreadful years in Atlanta, there is cause for optimism in Braves nation. There are a number of reasons that the Braves could, and in fact should, be an exciting team to watch this season. Here are 9 reasons that come to mind:

    1. NEW BALLPARK: Turner Field was not a bad stadium, but it was an utterly forgettable one. It was the Ben Affleck of modern ballparks … completely devoid of charisma or character. And the setting? Taco Bell couldn’t even stay in business outside of Turner Field. Seriously. A Taco Bell franchise was opened across the street and bulldozed a few years later. SunTrust Park will change all of that. Unlike Turner Field, this stadium was built entirely for baseball, with a design that samples some of the raddest characteristics of top ballparks throughout the country–nay, the world! (For you millennials, “raddest” means really, really “lit.”)

    2. WINNING: As I have expressed here recently and many times on Twitter, despite numerous publications predicting that the Braves will lose around 90 games, I am willing to bet this team will be over .500 this year. In fact I have made a couple of friendly wagers to that effect. And at the very least, I would practically bet my life that this team will be substantially better than it was over the past two seasons. (No, that doesn’t mean you get to kill me if I’m wrong.)

    3. OFFENSE: The Braves, by the numbers, had arguably the NL’s best offense after the All-Star break last year. The lineup began clicking when Freddie Freeman’s bat woke up and a healthy Ender Inciarte rounded into form. It then hit another gear when Matt Kemp joined the lineup, followed by the arrival of rookie phenom Dansby Swanson. Manager Brian Snitker will carry the same lineup card into 2017 with one alteration: a significant upgrade at second base in the person of 3x All-Star Brandon Phillips. Barring major injuries, this lineup will score runs. And scoring is always fun to watch. (As long as it’s your team doing the scoring.) I showed you this lineup comparison in my last post, but it deserves another look. (Again, yes, Inciarte was in some of those early ’16 lineups but was not entirely healthy and sharp as he was later in the year.) This year’s likely Opening Day lineup looks like more fun than many of those early ’16 lineups, doesn’t it?!Web

    4.KNUCKLE-BALLS: The knuckle-ball is returning to Atlanta! I started following the Braves in the mid-latter 80’s so I don’t have much in the way of Phil Niekro memories. But many others with a few grey whiskers remember fondly the days when knuckle-balls danced like a squirrel in traffic across home plate at Alanta-Fulton County Stadium. When a knuckle-baller is on his game, it’s a devastating pitch. When he’s not, it’s also devastating … in a different way. But it is always interesting, and that will make former CY Young winner R.A. Dickey fun to watch. And Niekro, who mentored Dickey in the ways of the knuckle-ball force, will no doubt relish watching his pupil bring the “knuckler” back to Atlanta.

    Colon exercises5. BIG SEXY! How could watching Bartolo “Big Sexy” Colon take the hill every 5th day not be fun to watch?! Colon is the Julio Franco of big league pitchers. He doesn’t seem to age. Bartolo doesn’t get older,  he just gets sexier! Of course, there will come a day when age catches up to him. The Braves just hope it’s not this year. So far this spring, he is feeling great and appears to have the same sexy stuff that enabled him to post a more-than-respectable 3.43 ERA over 191 innings last year at the age of 43.

    6. DANSBY: The Braves now feature one of baseball’s top and most exciting young talents. Dansby Swanson had an immediate impact on this team upon his call up late last year and was no small part of this team’s impressive 20-10 finish over the final 30 games of last season. It’s gotta be the hair! Braves fans will now get to see Swanson with a tomahawk across his chest for a full season in 2017, and it should be mighty fun to watch.

    7. WEB GEMS: In a recent interview, 4x Gold Glove winner Brandon Phillips told Braves fans to get ready: “Lot of Web Gems coming to the theatres near you in Atlanta.” Indeed. The double-play combo of Phillips and Swanson is certain to make quite a few highlight reels this year. And they don’t just play their positions well … they play ’em with style! As does reigning Gold Glove winner Ender Inciarte in Center Field. The defense up the middle will be very, very good, and very fun to watch.

    8. BIG YOUNG ARMS: With Mike Foltynewicz likely to lock down the 5th starter job, the Braves rotation will (probably) feature one of the game’s most gifted young power arms. Whether he can find the consistency needed to establish himself as a top-end big league starter remains to be seen, but the talent is there. And other young power arms are knocking on the door, including top prospects Sean Newcomb and Patrick Wiegel. Also, fireballin’ lefty A.J. Minter, widely billed as the Braves’ best relief prospect since Craig Kimbrell, is likely to arrive in Atlanta at some point this year.

    1B Freddie Freeman will benefit from Matt Kemp's pres

    1B Freddie Freeman could be poised for a big year

    9. MVP FREDDIE? Freddie Freeman should have been awarded the Silver Slugger award at 1B last year. There’s no way any reasonable person can look at the numbers and conclude anything other than “he was robbed.” Freddie is now entering the prime years of his career and will benefit from having a legitimate cleanup hitter providing protection for him in the Opening Day lineup for the first time in a few years. With that in mind, some prognosticators have made him their early pick for NL MVP.

    Don’t let the skeptics get you down, Braves fans. I’m not predicting a 2017 reincarnation of the 1991 “Miracle Braves,” but this team really should be a lot of fun to watch.

    What has you excited about this season? Chirp me up on Twitter: @FriedbasballATL

    Kent Covington is a national radio news reporter and BravesWire Editor.