With the Grapefruit League schedule now underway, it will be fun to keep an eye on how the Braves do during the month of March. Coming off a 67-win season a year ago, we will be curious to see if the team is better.
But don’t even worry about it. The exhibition season in baseball can matter, but for this team, it doesn’t.
If the Braves were ready to be a team to compete for a division title, or even something else, then having a spring where wins mattered would be more important. But this team is simply not ready for that, at least not yet.
For some reason, a spring that sticks out to me is one 34 years ago. Joe Torre had taken over for Bobby Cox as Atlanta’s manager. The expectations were higher than ever before, and the Braves went 18-7. That type of spring training was needed, and it springboard the team to a 13-0 regular season start.
The Braves were 15-7 for the 1991 spring training schedule. That was the year Cox took back over as the full-time manager, and while they didn’t get hot until the second half of the season the good work in March had to help.
There are probably examples of how the Braves had losing records in spring training during the division title run from 1991 through 2005, but for most of those years it didn’t matter. We knew the Braves were going to be good, and all they were doing was preparing for the season.
This spring the Braves have so many questions to answer that the spring training record will be irrelevant. There will be no reason to be excited if they have a winning record, and it won’t mean anything if the Braves have a bad record.
There are two spots in the rotation to figure out, as Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler and Bud Norris are the only three that have jobs nailed down. At least five others will battle it out for the other two rotation jobs.
The bullpen has probably only three spots set in stone. Arodys Vizcaino, Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson are likely assured of jobs, and Grilli must prove he’s healthy. There is a cast of thousands who will fight it out for the other four jobs.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez’s biggest job this spring is to figure out a starting lineup, which is not always easy for him anyway. The Braves know Freddie Freeman will be at first base, Erick Aybar will be at shortstop, Ender Inciarte will be in center and Nick Markakis will be in right field.
Hector Olivera must prove he can handle left field. If he can’t, Olivera might wind up back at third base. But that’s where two people, Adonis Garcia and Kelly Johnson, might platoon. There may also be a platoon at second base, with Jace Peterson and Gordon Beckham fighting for playing time. And then at catcher, veteran A.J. Pierzynski might platoon with the younger Tyler Flowers.
With three potential platoons, Gonzalez will likely use the entire month to play around with potential lineups.
So with so much to figure out in March, the spring training record will not be important. In a year or two, when it’s time for the Braves to compete again, it will be more relevant. This month the Braves just need to make decisions and prepare for the season.
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