It has only been three months since they went out on the proverbial limb.
The Atlanta Braves made a franchise-changing trade on July 30 when they shipped Hector Olivera to the San Diego Padres for Matt Kemp and a wad of cash. The Braves have never regretted that move for one day, one game or one golden future.
Atlanta hit the jackpot with the acquisition of Kemp, the veteran and former Los Angeles Dodgers great. When the Braves made that trade over the summer they were clearly one of the worst baseball teams to walk on a Major League field this season. Atlanta was a team that was just about at rock bottom.
The Braves were losing, and they were losing ugly. The players had given up on the season. Atlanta couldn’t score runs. The Braves seldom had a ninth inning lead, and Atlanta looked like a team headed to a 100-loss season.
Atlanta was also on its second manager of the year, having already fired Fredi Gonzalez. He’s at home counting his money right now. The Braves did insert Brian Snitker as the interim manager on May 17.
He was winning a few and losing a lot. Snitker was making some minimal progress, but the Braves turnaround did not begin until the team traded for Kemp.
He brought a calming influence to the team. The mere acquisition of Kemp, a former All-Star and a 11year veteran, proved to the Braves players that this franchise wanted do whatever was necessary to put a winning product on the field again.
With the trade, the Braves got a player who brought confidence to a team that had none. Kemp brought good work habits. Kemp brought professionalism and above all, No. 27 showed the other Braves what winning looks like on a daily basis.
Kemp did not come to the Braves to go through the motions. He was not in Atlanta to lose. Kemp expected to win, even on a last place team like Atlanta. And from July 10 to the end of the regular season, Kemp’s winning attitude and good work habits rubbed off on his Atlanta teammates.
The Braves bought in. They worked hard – like a rookie trying to make a Major League roster. The Atlanta players took extra batting practice. Kemp started to draw some of the attention from opposing pitchers. That made the rest of the Braves lineup more potent, including Freddie Freeman (.302 batting average, 34 home runs), Adonis Garcia, Nick Markakis, Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte (.291 batting average, 24 doubles).
Kemp made the players around him a whole lot better. The whole Atlanta franchise has swallowed some confidence. The Braves are back to winning and expecting to win when they enter the clubhouse door daily.
The Braves finished the season with a flurry, taking 20 of 30 games and eight of their last 10 contests. Atlanta was competitive in the second half of the season. The Braves became an offensive machine. They still had a losing season, but they made the most out of a rebuilding campaign.
Atlanta is on the doorstep of contending again. The Braves have some of the best young talent in the game, along with some hungry veterans, led by Kemp. He’s the guy who grew up a Braves fan. Kemp is the man who wants to be in Atlanta, and he wants to get the Braves back to the playoff conversation in the coming seasons.
Between the Padres and the Braves, Kemp did finish this year with 35 home runs, 108 RBI’s, 39 doubles and 137 base knocks. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound left fielder, also referred to as “The Bison,” played 56 games with Atlanta since last summer’s trade. Kemp earned his keep, too, with 60 hits for the Braves, to go along with a .280 batting average, 12 homers, 39 RBI’s and 15 doubles. No. 27 scored 35 runs for the Braves. Kemp is pointing the Braves to a bright future.
Chris Fernsler Sports Writer