ATLANTA -- Though the Braves outwardly expressed the possibility of being a postseason contender in year three of their massive rebuild, their first season of the SunTrust Park era met logical expectations.History will recognize 2017 as the year in which the Braves compiled a fourth consecutive losing season for the
ATLANTA -- Though the Braves outwardly expressed the possibility of being a postseason contender in year three of their massive rebuild, their first season of the SunTrust Park era met logical expectations.
History will recognize 2017 as the year in which the Braves compiled a fourth consecutive losing season for the first time since 1990. Those who watched the season elapse may remember it as the one in which Ozzie Albies and some other highly touted prospects arrived on the scene to provide hope for the future and erase the frustration caused by Bartolo Colon and some of this year's other unsuccessful short-term gambles.
The Braves evened their record after the All-Star break, but by the end of July the bullpen became more problematic and it was clear the focus had been placed on the future. The events of this past season should significantly influence how soon Atlanta fans can once again begin looking forward to October.
Here is a recap of the top events of the Braves' 2017 season.
1. What might have been
Freddie Freeman will never know what might have happened had his National League Most Valuable Player Award pursuit not been derailed by the fractured left wrist sustained in a May 17 game against the Blue Jays. Still, despite the fact he once again proved to be one of the game's elite offensive producers, Freeman's seven-week absence did not hurt the Braves, who went 24-20 in his absence.
The Braves acquired Matt Adams from the Cardinals on May 20 and watched him produce eye-opening statistics through his first month as their first-base replacement. Adams' production was impressive enough for Freeman to make the unselfish decision to make an early return from the disabled list and play third base -- a position he hadn't familiarized himself with since high school.
Freeman's stint as a third baseman lasted about a month and he battled some wrist fatigue until late August, when he preserved energy by not taking batting practice. He never duplicated the otherworldly six-week stretch he had before the wrist fracture, but he still ranked among the league leaders in Weighted Runs Created Plus.
2. The catalyst
Ender Inciarte earned his first All-Star selection this season and positioned himself for another Gold Glove as he spent most of this season leading all Major League outfielders in five-star catches. His status as one of the game's elite defenders was further legitimized as he ranked near the top of Statcast™'s new Outs Above Average leaderboard.
While strengthening the Braves' pitching staff with his glove, Inciarte was also legitimizing his offensive value, as he notched just the seventh 200-hit season in Atlanta history. The skilled leadoff hitter also showed some power this season, as he recorded his first double-digit homer total, which nearly eclipsed the career total he carried into the season.
3. All about the kids
The pre-Spring Training acquisition of Brandon Phillips provided the Braves a dependable hitter and second baseman through the season's first four months. But the middle of the infield assumed a completely different look in early August, when Albies made his Major League debut and Dansby Swanson returned from what proved to be a short demotion to Triple-A Gwinnett.
By the end of August, Swanson had made the adjustments necessary to distance himself from his early-season struggles and Albies had proved he has the capability to be one of the most exciting components of an Atlanta lineup that next year will include top prospect Ronald Acuna, MLBPipeline.com's Hitter of the Year.
Before Swanson turned things around and Albies arrived, Johan Camargo had established himself as Atlanta's top rookie this year. Camargo is arguably the best defensive infielder in the organization and his versatility and likeable personality have led some to compare him to a young Martin Prado. He could find himself as the starting third baseman next year if the Braves don't fill this need via free agency or a trade.
4. Young guns
Colon's tremendous struggles opened a rotation spot in early June for Sean Newcomb, who developed a better changeup over the past four months and legitimized his capability to be a top-flight starter. Lucas Sims and Max Fried also made good impressions after arriving in August. But the most physically gifted pitching prospect to reach Atlanta within the past three seasons is Luiz Gohara, who spent September proving his physique might not be the only reason to compare him to Carsten Sabathia.
As the Braves look toward next season, they can at least feel good about filling their first four rotation spots with Gohara, Newcomb, Mike Foltynewicz and Julio Teheran. The latter two experienced some inconsistent stretches, but they are capable of providing experience within a rotation that should welcome some of the club's other top pitching prospects next year.
5. A new home
When the Braves opened SunTrust Park this season, early results showed it might be a haven for power hitters. But as the summer months progressed and Atlanta's pitching staff improved, there were fewer reasons to consider the stadium a band box. The Braves opened their new home with an April 14 victory over the Padres. Inciarte hit the first home run and also recorded the first and last out of the first game played at the park, in which Atlanta went 37-44, a six-win improvement from their final Turner Field record.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.