What went right for the Braves in 2007? While it's not necessarily easy to see right now, with the team not in the playoffs, a lot of things did go right for the Atlanta Braves in 2007. The Braves finished 84-78 on the season, five games better than the previous year.
Whereas in 2006 the bullpen floundered, this season it was actually a strength of the team. Perhaps the struggles in the rotation made the bullpen look a bit better than it actually was, but there's no doubt that the bullpen was a positive.
The bullpen had a 26-20 record with a 3.54 ERA. It saved 36 games, while blowing 16. The trio that started the season as the main characters did not end that way, as Mike Gonzalez went down in May with Tommy John surgery and Bob Wickman got released in September. But the third member of the crew did his job admirably.
Rafael Soriano was dominant at times, especially early in the season. When the game was on the line he was almost perfect in the first half of the season, with most of the runs he allowed coming when the Braves had a big lead. He hit a bump in June and July (4.30 ERA), but after Wickman was let go the Braves let Soriano take over as closer and he was outstanding. Soriano was 3-for-3 in save opportunities and had an ERA of 0.69 in 12 September games. The performance cemented his 2008 role as the Atlanta closer.
The biggest surprise in the bullpen was Peter Moylan, the Australian who two years ago was a pharmaceutical salesman. He had a 1.80 ERA in 80 games, and he became Bobby Cox's favorite reliever with all the work. Moylan allowed only 65 hits in 90 innings of work, and he seemed to get better as the season went along.
The bullpen also had other surprises, such as flamethrower Manny Acosta (2.28 ERA in 21 games) and Joey Devine (1.08 ERA in 10 games). Devine also won the yo-yo award with too many trips between Atlanta and Richmond. After being acquired from the Rangers, lefty Ron Mahay provided solid production (2.25 ERA in 30 games and a .156 batting average for lefties).
The Braves finished third in the National League with a 4.11 team ERA, which should quiet some of Roger McDowell's critics. The improved bullpen was a part of that, but it starts with the duo at the top of the rotation.
John Smoltz was John Smoltz. He started 32 games and had a 14-8 record with a 3.11 ERA. Only the last game of the season in Philadelphia popped his ERA over three. Smoltz gave the Braves 205.2 innings, his third straight season with at least 14 wins and 200 innings or more. He remains, even at 40 years old, the Braves' ace.
And Tim Hudson finally became Tim Hudson again. After two lackluster seasons, Hudson broke through and showed why the Braves targeted him three years ago. Hudson was 16-10 with a 3.33 ERA in 34 starts, and for a while he was on track to be a Cy Young candidate. The reemergence of Hudson is a huge positive for the Atlanta franchise.
When the season began one of the biggest questions was at second base, where Kelly Johnson was replacing the popular Marcus Giles. Johnson's overall numbers were solid, with a .276 average, a .375 OBP, 16 home runs, and 68 runs batted in. Johnson was streaky, struggling in June and again in September.
Johnson's defense was shaky at times, as he had trouble with the backhanded play at second. But he more than replaced Giles, who had a horrible season in San Diego.
Matt Diaz continued to try and prove to everyone that he is a big league hitter. He followed up his .327 average in 2006 with a .338 mark this season. Diaz also showed power with 12 home runs and 45 RBI in 358 at bats. The Braves now have to decide if that was good enough to warrant a full-time gig next season.
The development of Jeff Francoeur was crucial, not only in the season but for his career as well. Francoeur had 19 more walks this season (42) compared to last year (23) and his on base percentage increased 45 points. But it was not only in the stats. Francoeur's individual plate appearances were more impressive. Sure, there were times went he got up there and hacked away, but he also had many more quality at bats this season. The power was down (by 10 home runs) but he drove in over 100 for the second straight season.
Edgar Renteria continued to show what a mistake the Boston Red Sox made by giving him up with another solid season for the Braves. He hit .332 and finished third in the National League. Renteria's solid season does not, however, guarantee his return next year.
The presence of Yunel Escobar could make Renteria expendable. No one expected the Cuban shortstop to make such a huge impact this early on, but he came up in June and became a big part of the team. Quite frankly, Escobar just hit…and hit…and hit. He was a hitting fool the entire season, and now he might push Renteria to another team. Escobar showed solid offensive skills, but his range and arm also displayed how good he can be in the field.
Chipper Jones did miss 28 games this season, but it was an improvement over the previous two seasons. Jones finished second in the National League with a .337 average, and if the Braves had been a playoff team he would have perhaps been more of a MVP candidate. Jones' defense, with the exception of the blunder in Philadelphia last week, was outstanding, and he may win his first Gold Glove award next month.
And after Scott Thorman & Company had made first base a huge problem, Mark Teixeira arrived and made it a strength. The former Ranger hit .317 with 17 home runs and 56 RBI in 208 at bats. He played in 54 games, which is one-third of a season. So multiply those numbers by three and if he duplicates that production next season the Braves will have a MVP candidate.
While inconsistent at times, the Braves finished in a three-way tie for second place in the National League with a .275 team batting average. There was little doubt the offense could provide enough run support for the pitchers on most nights. It'll be interesting to see how the Braves re-construct the lineup if Andruw Jones departs, but they'll perhaps have a chance to add some speed (Braves finished 14th in stolen bases) and have a more complete lineup around the big boppers.
The huge negative of the lack of depth in the starting rotation might outweigh the positives since the Braves are at home right now instead of participating in the playoffs. It was the primary reason the Braves finished in third place. But there are too many things to be optimistic about as the team looks toward next season.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at email@example.com.
2. What went right for the Braves in 2007?
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