Late surges reinvigorate Braves' 2016 season

Freeman, Kemp, Swanson help snap skid in final year at Turner Field

December 18th, 2016

ATLANTA -- proved why he is the franchise's cornerstone and provided a glimpse into the future as the Braves' rebuilding process seemed to fade in the distance in 2016. When Turner Field's 20-season history concluded with a 1-0 win over the Tigers on Oct. 2, the Braves exited the season having won 20 of their final 30 games, including 12 of their final 14.
This strong finish enhanced hope for the future, influenced the removal of the "interim" tag from Brian Snitker's managerial title on Oct. 11 and avoided what had seemed destined to be a 100-loss season.
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But an inspiring September that was fueled by the late-season additions of Swanson and  was not enough to erase the consequences of the season's first two months, a period that cost Fredi Gonzalez his job on May 17. After starting the season with nine straight losses and exiting May with a 15-36 record, the Braves saw the tide change on June 15 when they erased a two-run deficit against the Reds to win a 13-inning game. Freeman hit for the cycle and began a three-plus-month offensive surge.
The Braves won 50 of their final 97 games to finish at 68-93. Freeman finished sixth in the National League MVP balloting, bounced back from a rough 2015 to earn his first All-Star selection and won a Gold Glove Award.

Below are some of the top storylines that developed over the course of a season that concluded in optimistic fashion.
5. Gonzalez's dismissal
Gonzalez accepted the unenviable assignment to replace the retired Bobby Cox after the 2010 season, and he guided the Braves to the postseason during two of his first three seasons. But when the team began '16 with nine losses, the writing was on the wall, and the daily uncertainty didn't help the clubhouse mood. Gonzalez was the first Braves manager to be dismissed since 1990 as Snitker became a big league manager for the first time. He had previously filled a variety of roles at both the Major and Minor League levels in what will soon be a 41-season tenure with the Braves, beginning as a Rookie-level player in 1977.
4. Offseason transition
While occasionally made great strides and proved that he is ready to fill a big league rotation spot, the inconsistencies and struggles endured by and ranked among the year's top disappointments. Instead of just banking on the possibility Blair and Wisler will figure it out in the Majors this year, the Braves opted to acquire three short-term veteran starters -- , and -- whose presence could give Blair, Wisler and the club's next wave of starting pitching prospects a chance to further develop at the Minor League level.

3. Arrivals of Swanson and Kemp
While the December 2015 acquisitions of Swanson, Inciarte and Blair from the D-backs might have been the most significant moves during this rebuild, the acquisition of from the Dodgers a few months earlier undoubtedly stands as the worst from this phase. The Braves determined Olivera would never play for them after he was charged with domestic assault in April. But instead of simply accepting him as a sunk cost, they traded him to the Padres, who rid themselves of Kemp's contract.

Kemp's early-August arrival sparked the resurgence of a previously maligned Braves offense that tallied MLB's second-most runs per game over the season's final two months. Swanson further lengthened the lineup after he made his much-anticipated debut on Aug. 17. His first career homer was a memorable one, as it was completed in inside-the-park fashion at Nationals Park on Sept. 6.
2. Freeman's jaw-dropping surge
Freeman recorded two hits through the season's first 25 at-bats and batted .248 with 10 homers and a .775 OPS through June 14. The 27-year-old first baseman then proceeded to hit .338 with 24 homers and a 1.095 OPS over the final 95 games. His 152 Weighted Runs Created Plus ranked third in the NL, slightly ahead of the 149 mark produced by NL MVP . Kemp's presence provided right-handed protection for Freeman, who produced an MLB-best 1.141 OPS from the start of August through the end of the season. His first career 30-homer campaign gave the Braves further reason to feel good about the fact he will be asked to serve as the franchise's cornerstone through at least 2021.

1. Turner Field finale
What was once the Olympic Stadium where Carl Lewis won the last of his gold medals was transformed into the stage where John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Chipper Jones, Cox and John Schuerholz were last united as they progressed toward Cooperstown. The greatest era in Braves history concluded within Turner Field, which opened in 1997 and closed this past year with President Jimmy Carter among the dignitaries who came out to say goodbye. Each of the aforementioned legends was joined during that last game by Andruw Jones, Gary Sheffield, Rafael Furcal, Marcus Giles, and some of the other players who had created memories there.