Dan's Dugout: Schuerholz Calls Atlanta Revival Imminent • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Schuerholz Calls Atlanta Revival Imminent

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For most of this season, the Atlanta Braves had the worst record in the major leagues.

During the first half, they scored fewer runs and hit fewer home runs than anybody else. Crippled by that glaring lack of support, ace starting pitcher Julio Teheran went to the All-Star Game with a 3-8 record.

Julio Teheran has been a victim of poor support

Julio Teheran has been a victim of poor support

Then fortunes changed. Except for Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz, the rotation became unreliable, matching a bullpen that gave away more games than Toys R Us after Christmas.

But new manager Brian Snitker, an organization man who replaced Fredi Gonzalez in July, added stability, won the confidence of the players, and enjoyed a major recovery by his hitters.

Even before Matt Kemp landed on Atlanta’s doorstep, the lineup jelled. Ender Inciarte, acquired from Arizona last winter, and Freddie Freeman anchored the order from the first and third spots, respectively, after rebounding from historically bad starts. The same Braves that were the weakling of the league in April became a potent force, actually ranking near the top in runs scored since the All-Star break.

Putting both halves together will be a challenge the team can meet, according to long-time general manager John Schuerholz, now listed as Atlanta’s vice chairman.

John Schuerholz (left) and Bobby Cox had an amazing title run

John Schuerholz (left) and Bobby Cox had an amazing title run

“I’m very optimistic we will win at least half our games in 2017,” Schuerholz said Thursday night during an exclusive interview on the BRAVES BANTER radio show. “Moving into the new ballpark will be the dawn of a new day for our team.”

The move to Sun Trust Park, located in nearby Cobb County, was prompted by a lease expiration at Turner Field, which will be taken over by Georgia State University.

An expected revenue windfall will enable the Braves to spend more money on free agents and international signings, Schuerholz said. Such top prospects as shortstop Dansby Swanson and outfielder Mallex Smith have already made an impact, he added, though second baseman Ozzie Albies must wait til spring training to heal from a broken elbow suffered earlier this week while swinging a bat.

More blue-chippers are on the way, according to Schuerholz. He pointed out that Braves affiliates in Triple-A, Double-A, and Low A are involved in minor-league playoffs.

“Two years ago, our farm system was the worst in baseball,” he said, “but now it’s rated No. 1 by Baseball America. Our new general manager, John Coppolella, is a remarkable guy who’s creative and innovative. He thinks outside the box and figures things out. I have very high regard for him.”

Schuerholz calls John Hart and Coppolella “Batman and Robin,” because they work together so well. Hart, whose title is president of baseball operations, had previous success with the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians and was an analyst for MLB Network.

Snitker’s status will be determined by Hart and Coppolella after the season but Schuerholz is in his

John Schuerholz and Andruw Jones were installed in the Braves Hall of Fame last month

John Schuerholz and Andruw Jones were installed in the Braves Hall of Fame last month

corner. “He’s steady, well-prepared, and loves the game,” Schuerholz said of Snitker, who had been managing Triple-A Gwinnett before his promotion to Atlanta.

The Braves had not changed managers in midseason since 1990, when Bobby Cox succeeded Russ Nixon. Cox is still active with the team as senior advisor, Schuerholz pointed out.

It was the tandem of Schuerholz and Cox that forged a 14-year divisional title run that remains a pro sports record. In fact, it could be the team equivalent of Cal Ripken Jr.’s consecutive games playing streak.

A general manager for 26 years, Schuerholz won world championships in both leagues (Kansas City in 1985 and Atlanta 10 years later). He said the Braves will soon challenge again, thanks to such blue-chip prospects as Sean Newcomb, Lucas Sims, and Dustin Peterson.

Another player to watch, he added, is switch-hitting third baseman Kevin Maitan, a Venezuelan teenager sought by numerous clubs. The last time the Braves had a switch-hitting slugger at third base, he turned into an MVP, batting champion, and Hall of Famer. Chipper Jones is eligible for Cooperstown in 2018.

Miguel Cabrera won the last Triple Crown

Miguel Cabrera won the last Triple Crown

“We believe Maitan is the best player to come out of Venezuela since Miguel Cabrera,” said Schuerholz, invoking the name of the four-time American League batting king and its last Triple Crown winner.

The long-time executive laughed when asked whether the Braves should open a special wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame, where Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Cox are recent additions and Andruw Jones, Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield, Dale Murphy, Leo Mazzone, and Schuerholz could join them.

Years from now, Freddie Freeman might be considered too. Schuerholz called him the Face of the Franchise much the same way that title was bestowed upon Murphy and Chipper Jones before him.

Elsewhere in baseball:

The way the Mets and Yankees are playing lately, a Subway Series still seems possible . . .

The Mets are almost certain to top the 2006 club record of 200 home runs . . .

Tiny Houston leadoff man Jose Altuve is a lock to win his second batting title in three years and a good

Another batting crown for Houston's Little Big Man?

Another batting crown for Houston’s Little Big Man?

bet to lead the American League in hits for the third year in a row . . .

Another little guy, Mookie Betts, hit three home runs in a game three times this year . . .

Washington star Stephen Strasburg lasted just three innings in his return from the DL before he was sidelined again with a strained flexor mass in his elbow . . .

If the Cardinals don’t make the playoffs, their inability to play well at home will be the biggest factor . . .

Changing leagues certainly helped Pittsburgh’s Ivan Nova, who is 5-0 with a 2.53 ERA in seven Pittsburgh starts after leaving the Yankees . . .

What in the world made sudden sluggers of Brian Dozier (Twins) and Jedd Gyorko (Cardinals)? . . .

One day after his first big-league homer was a rare inside-the-parker in Washington, Atlanta wunderkind Dansby Swanson hit one over the distant center-field fence . . .

Cincinnati manager Bryan Price would be wise to keep his bags packed . . .

Prediction: Tim Tebow (Mets) will not succeed in baseball the way he did in football . . .

Milwaukee has a pitcher named Magnifico whose 6.00 ERA suggests he should change it . . .

After both the Braves and Dodgers traded him away, versatile speed merchant Jose Peraza has found a home in Cincinnati . . .

Brian McCann still has good pop in his bat. Credit: Bill Menzel

Brian McCann still has good pop in his bat.
Credit: Bill Menzel

Trade rumors notwithstanding, Brian McCann (Yankees) had a two-homer game Thursday in a game his team won by one run . . .

If present standings persist, the Mets will face superstar southpaw Madison Bumgarner (Giants) in the National League wild-card game . . .

Clayton Kershaw’s Friday return in Florida gives the front-running Los Angeles Dodgers even more hope they can hang onto their five-game lead in the National league West . . .

Four of the five teams fighting for three AL playoff spots are from the American League East . . .

The only teams without retired numbers are the Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals.

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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