For the final series of the season, the Tigers head to Atlanta to take on the Braves and hopefully catapult themselves back into the Wild Card picture. While the Braves overall have had a terrible season, they’re 16-9 in the month of September and have been one of the best offenses in baseball since the start of the second half. If they want any shot at making the playoffs, the Tigers are going to have to cool off Hotlanta.
In order to get acquainted with the new-look Braves, we spoke with Kris Willis, managing editor of Talking Chop, SB Nation’s excellent Braves community.
Even though the Braves have locked up last place in the NL East, there were quite a few bright spots for the team. What was the most impressive development for you? Swanson’s emergence? Freeman’s career year? Inciarte’s quality play? Something else?
I want to cop out and say all of the above. This season started so badly for the Braves that it looked like they could end up with the kind of historical season that no one wants. The easy answer would be Freddie Freeman but I am going to go with Inciarte. Atlanta's offensive surge in the second half has been the result of good play from several players, but Inciarte has set the table at the top of the order. He may be the best defensive center fielder we have seen in Atlanta since Andruw Jones. Overall, it isn't a lot of fun watching a team lose 90+ games, but watching Inciarte day in and day out has been a treat.
What seems to be the general consensus among the fan base with the new stadium, and do they really care that this is the last season at Turner Field?
The new stadium seems to be a real touchy subject for a lot of Braves fans. While I am personally excited to see SunTrust Park next summer, I understand the criticisms that are out there about publicly funded stadiums. I think Braves fans do care that it is the final season at Turner Field, but I think it is a situation where they wish that the City of Atlanta and the team could have found a way to work things out where a move wouldn't have been necessary.
Julio Teheran is in the midst of a really nice bounce-back year, and his value will arguably never be higher. Would you hold onto him or trade him?
This is a subject that has been hotly debated around Talking Chop all season and I don't expect that to let up. I understand the case for trading Teheran, but his contract is such a bargain that I probably wouldn't move him. That is, unless I received some godfather-like offer close to the one they received for Shelby Miller.
How excited are you to watch Dansby Swanson develop at the major league level?
I'm really excited to watch Swanson develop. We knew that he was likely to make it to Atlanta this season, and I think he has been a big part of their good play down the stretch. In many ways, he represents the future for this franchise. Seeing him at the major league level signifies that the rebuild is moving along nicely.
How far off do you think the Braves are from competing in the NL East?
I think the rebuild is progressing but there is still a lot of work to be done. Braves GM John Coppolella recently talked about the offseason and how they would have a lot of money to spend over the winter. I think it is important that they get the managerial decision right and that they don't rush things too much due to the new stadium. The team could take another step forward next season but I really think it might be 2018 before they are true contenders in the NL East.
Despite the Braves concluding a fairly dismal season, the finish was strong. What type of offseason do you anticipate them having in terms of how they attack free agency and trades?
All signs seem to point towards them being pretty aggressive during the offseason. They have a pretty large hole at catcher and I would not be surprised to see them try to fill that either via trade or through a free agent signing. Coppolella previously indicated that they would be in the market for as many as two starting pitchers, as well. The outfield situation is also something to keep an eye on as it looks like they have four guys for three spots so a trade there could also be possible.
Final question, and the most important of them all, the Braves are 22-17 since they designated Mike Aviles for assignment. Is that the turning point of their season?
Haha, it actually might have had more to do with the departure of Erick Aybar than anything. (Thanks for that by the way).
Once again, a big thanks to Kris Willis and the rest of the Talking Chop staff for answering our questions. Make sure to check out Talking Chop all offseason long for the very best Braves news coverage and analysis!