Dan's Dugout: Another Worst-to-First Braves? • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Another Worst-to-First Braves?

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NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. – Braves manager Brian Snitker believes his team can repeat the worst-to-first jump first made by Atlanta 25 years ago.

“I’m very proud of the way we finished the season,” said Snitker,

Brain Snitker meets the media at winter meetings. Dan Schlossberg photo

Brain Snitker meets the media at winter meetings.
Dan Schlossberg photo

whose team won 20 of its last 30 and played winning baseball after the August arrival of Matt Kemp. “We felt like we were chasing the wild card. It was gratifying and fun to watch.”

It also resulted in the removal of the “interim” title from Snitker’s job description.

In fact, he revealed Wednesday that he’s no longer an anonymous man in Atlanta.

“I went to the meat department of Kroger’s, came home, and my daughter showed me my picture on Instagram,” laughed Snitker, who was marking his 40th year in the Braves organization when hired to succeed Fredi Gonzalez in May.

Turning serious in a morning meeting with the media, Snitker insisted he plans to approach the 2017 campaign with a divisional title in sight.

“Our goal is to win the division,” he said without hesitating. “We feel, to a man, that we have a pretty good club. I base that on the way we finished and the depth we have added.”

Bartolo Colon, pushing 44, joins the Braves Credit: George Napolitano/Latino Sports

Bartolo Colon, pushing 44, joins the Braves
Credit: George Napolitano/Latino Sports

Atlanta signed free agent starting pitchers Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey and versatile Sean Rodriguez, then traded for lefthanded starter Jaime Garcia. Another lefty could come aboard soon if the Braves best the Nationals in talks for White Sox lefty Jose Quintana.

Snitker says the veteran innings-eaters should help some of the young arms on the staff. “Bartolo will be invaluable to our young Latino pitchers,” he said. “We now have two or three guys who have been through the wars. Coaches can only do so much but these guys can lead by example. There are some guys active now who don’t remember the major leagues without Bartolo Colon.”

The manager noted that many managers and executives praised Atlanta’s new acquisitions. “I ran into guys who had those players and they told me how valuable they were,” he said.

He could have said versatile; Rodriguez and holdovers Jace Peterson and Chase d’Arnaud all play multiple positions in the infield and outfield.

Brian Snitker believes his Braves can win NL East

Brian Snitker believes his Braves can win NL East Photo: Dan Schlossberg

Too bad they can’t catch; find someone to hold Dickey;s elusuive knuckleballs won’t be easy.

“Tyler (Flowers) has the work ethic,” said the manager, whose team had interest in Wilson Ramos before Tampa Bay signed the former Washington All-Star to a two-year contract Tuesday. Josh Thole, Dickey’s personal receiver in Toronto, is a free agent but there’s no room to add him to the Atlanta roster.

Snitker has fewer concerns about his bullpen, where a group of young fireballers precedes sinkerballing closer Jim Johnson. “We’re not going to run a tryout camp out there,” he said. “You could see the confidence increasing in all those guys. Jose Ramirez, Chaz Roe, and Mauricio Cabrera did a great job. And we still have Ian Krol, a good lefthander, and just re-signed Eric O’Flaherty.”

The manager can’t wait to see what Kemp can do over a full season. “He fit right in,” Snitker said of his righthanded cleanup hitter. “I love the guy. He has a knack for driving in runs. And it’s a good feeling for Freddie (Freeman) knowing Matt is right behind him. That’s pretty good protection right there.”

Snitker expects run production to be up with the promotion of rookie Dansby Swanson from eighth to second in the batting order. Ender Inciarte, another second-half star, retains the leadoff spot.

“Getting Dansby some big-league experience last summer really helped him,” said Snitker. “He can handle anything we throw at him. He’s got the make-up and confidence to adjust and adapt. He asks all the right questions.”

Snitker last attended the winter meetings at the invitation of Bobby Cox, then the team’s general manager, 28 years ago. His son Troy was actually born during the Atlanta confab, forcing Snitker to head for the hospital.

“This is really something I never experienced,” he admitted when asked about his role in the 2016 proceedings. “I never got to sit in during all those meetings, to give you one example.”

Snitker started last season as manager of Atlanta’s Triple-A farm in Gwinnett, along with a half-dozen of his current players.

“I like our lineup,” he said. “This off-season was going to be about our starting pitching and we took care of that.”

R.A. Dickey's pet pitch helps him eat innings

R.A. Dickey’s pet pitch helps him eat innings

Colon and Dickey, the oldest active pitchers in the game, are inning-eating stopgaps holding spots until young studs developing on the farm are ripe for promotion.

Whether they can create a worst-to-first scenario remains to be seen. But the Braves, heading into their new Sun Trust Park, are certain to be more entertaining than they were before Snitker arrived.

“I have to credit the Johns – John Schuerholz, John Hart, and John Coppolella – for all the hard work they do,” Snitker said. “They do ask my opinion about players and possible trades but I trust they know what they’re doing.”

Meetings Musings:

After losing closer Mark Melancon to the Giants, catcher Wilson Ramos to the Rays, and trade target Chris Sale to the Red Sox, the Nationals are focused on landing Adam Eaton (White Sox) if they can’t add former MVP Andrew McCutchen (Pirates) . . .

The World Champion Cubs, tired of waiting for Aroldis Chapman, replaced the closer with Wade Davis, acquired from the Royals for versatile Jorge Soler . . .

With Ian Desmond returning to the National League (Colorado), the Texas Rangers re-signed center fielder Carlos Gomez . . .

Although the Miami Marlins have miles to go before they replace

Replacing the late Jose Fernandez will be tough for the Marlins

Replacing the late Jose Fernandez will be tough for the Marlins

their late ace starter Jose Fernandez, the Fish filled vacancies by signing veteran catcher A.J. Ellis and lefthanded starter Jeff Locke . . .

With the White Sox willing to trade Jose Quintana even after parting with Chris Sale, the Braves and Nationals have again emerged as the top bidders . . .

Not content with Dellin Betances in their once-formidable bullpen, the Yankees have offered contracts to free-agent closers Kenley Jansen and Chapman.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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