The time is upon us once again.
Sunny Florida provides an idyllic haven to rescue us from Winter's dread: spring training is underway. Baseball is here.
For the first time in nearly a quarter century, your Atlanta Braves enter spring training as a team that has very little postseason expectations. Gone is much of the star-power that brought so much excitement to the fanbase the last few years. Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis have been trimmed from the roster as the Braves' trailblazing GM John Hart has committed to replenishing a thirsting farm system.
Now, the future for the Braves looks brighter than ever. Nearly half of our top 25 prospects were added this winter, including top-flight young talent such as Mike Foltynewicz, Rio Ruiz, Max Fried, Tyrell Jenkins and Mallex Smith. Hart has taken his position by storm and thrusted the Braves from a bottom 5 MLB farm system into at least a top 10 system. That young talent will be seen across the boards in Rome, Mississippi and Gwinnett and leave Brave fans salivating over the prospect of future championship runs in 2017 and beyond.
But what to get us through until then? Has Atlanta essentially punted away any hope of contending in 2015? Are the Braves truly destined for a miserable 90+ loss season, as prognosticators expect?
Spring always provides a fresh sense of hope, and for that reason, I leave you this: That's why they play the games.
The pitching will still be strong, as it always seems to be in Atlanta. Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Shelby Miller and Mike Minor will serve as the backbone of the team, and should all be good enough most times out to give the Braves 'a chance'. The bullpen is still headed by other-wordly closer Craig Kimbrel, and key veteran additions such as Dan Grilli and Jim Johnson. The lineup is the true question - or concern - for Braves fans. Where will the power come from? Could we see platoons at three different positions? Who will protect Freddie Freeman? Will Nick Markakis prove worthy of his offseason contract and stay healthy? And we can't forget the skipper: will Fredi Gonzalez weather the storms this team should ultimately face in 2015 and keep them fighting?
But even if the experts are right...even if the Braves' starless offense muddles all year, even if the new additions all turn out to be busts, and even if the Nationals go 19-0 against us and win over 100 games...baseball is back.
And on this cold February evening, that is all that matters. America's pastime is always a treasure, in victory and defeat.
I present to you the 2015 Atlanta Braves Season Thread.