Let me start this off by saying that I've totally resigned myself to 2015 (and possibly 2016 as well.) being a punt year for the Braves. I've found myself in a strange place of peace when it comes to my favorite baseball team's chances next year. I guess it's because I've bought in to the future being extremely bright for this club. I'm willing to trade a couple of bad years for plenty of good ones in the future, and I'm sure that's the case for a lot of fellow Braves fans out there.
With that being said, there's always that creeping thought in the back of our heads; It's a thought that pops up in any baseball fan's heads during this time of year. It's our good friend "If" letting us know that he's there and that he's ready to make everything possible. "Hey, what if this happens? And what if that happens? I mean, if these things occur, then this could really be something else!" It's hard to ignore "If," because "If" brings a lot of promise and hope in the message that he brings. He loves to bring that message during the Spring when everybody's 0-0, because that's he perfect time for "If" to pounce on your emotions. However, I don't like to let "If" play with my emotions because I've been hurt too much in the past by delusions of grandeur that "If" filled my handsome head with.
However, I'm also a glutton for optimism and hope. So instead of ignoring "If's" nagging little voice, we're going to indulge it. We're going to let that voice have its day. The way I see it, if the Braves are going to have any sort of shot at making the Postseason in 2015, the following things have to happen:
Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons have to take their game to the next level
Make no bones about it: These two guys are the faces of the franchise right now. Freddie Freeman is by far the best offensive weapon that the Braves have right now, and the same can be said of Andrelton Simmons on defense. Both of these players have 4+ fWAR under their belts over the past 2 seasons (Freeman was worth 4.7 fWAR in 2013 and 4.2 in 2014, while Simba had a 4.6 season back in 2013), but we'd need a bit more from them in 2015. Freddie Freeman would need to take a leap that would vault him into the MVP conversation, while Andrelton would need to start mashing at the plate in addition to robbing poor NL batters of runs at an astounding rate.
Simply put, we'd need the two faces of the franchise to single-handedly chisel their faces into the proverbial mountain of Turner Field. Is it possible? Of course. There's no reason to doubt that either of these guys could still improve and possibly take a leap in production. Is it probable? Maybe one guy could do it, but both in the same season? We'll have to see.
The rotation would need to step up massively
The Braves rotation is young and full of promise; That much is clear. While the Braves' offense is probably going to be pretty doggone woeful this season, the pitching will keep this team in plenty of games that they shouldn't be in. However, if the Braves want to make a run at October, then we'd have to see the top of the rotation turn into a 3-headed dragon.
Last season, Julio Teheran had a 2.89 ERA and a 3.49 FIP, which included an 8.1 HR/FB%, a 0.90 HR/9 rate, and 75.9% strand rate. All of those numbers would need to take a jump. A 3.2 fWAR is nice, and any team would take that production from one of their starters, but it's not exactly ace quality, and we'd need an "ace" type of season from Teheran if the 2015 Braves as constructed were to take a jump to the next level. We'd need the same from Alex Wood as well. Wood would need to reach the potential that has some comparing him to Chicago's Chris Sale and reach it now. Also, we'd need Shelby Miller to reach his ZiPS projection of 3 wins, which would mean that Roger McDowell successfully laid hands on young Miller and led him to a bounce-back season. After that, we'd just need the other two starters to not be horrible, and to possibly just make sure that the Braves have a chance to win near the end, so that they can put the game in the capable hands of Craig Kimbrel. Either way, we'd need to see some absolute dealing from our young guns in the rotation.
At least 3 other position players need to have breakout/career years
Now this is where things get tricky since, you know, the Braves just traded 3 guys who would be perfect candidates for this title. Meanwhile, the team is probably going to see pretty big downgrades at the positions that have been filled in their absences. At catcher, Christian Bethancourt is going to be a great defensive catcher, but there are still plenty of questions about his bat. In right field, Nick Markakis would be a great complimentary piece on a team that's projected to do well, but here, he's probably going to be one of the best players on the team. Being the best player on a team that isn't projected to even win 80 games isn't exactly a good place to be. And the left field situation is basically Jonny Gomes and probably either Zolio Almonte or Eric Young Jr. in a platoon. I've said all of that to say that we probably aren't going to see improvement from either of those positions from what we saw in 2014.
With that, we've covered all but 3 positions in the field: Center field, 2nd base, and 3rd base, and we'd have to see a major step-up in production in order for the Braves to even think about contending this year. Unfortunately, this means that we'd have to pin our hopes on B.J. Upton somehow reaching back and grabbing his Tampa Bay form and Chris Johnson returning to BABIP God status. If I was a betting man, I wouldn't want to put any sort of currency on that happening, but this is baseball, and "If" isn't a discriminatory lover; "If" still has faith in B.J. and Chris Johnson to eventually rebound, and "If" has faith that the black hole at 2nd base can be resolved
Basically, if the Braves are going to make a run at this, any combination of 3 players from the last 2 paragrpahs would need to explode this season. Again, baseball is a weird game so it could happen. But will it? It doesn't seem probable.
Even if all of these things happen, in my mind, the Braves could win around 85 or so games if all goes extremely well. That'd be a few wins short of Postseasosn baseball, since the threshold in the NL nowadays tends to be the 88-90 win range. So basically, even if everything goes fantastically right for the Braves this year, I still don't see them making the Postseason.
That isn't to say that this is necessarily a bad thing. Of course it'd be great if the Braves did shock everyone and make a magical run into October. That's what keeps people coming to the ballpark and following the sport to begin with; That specter of hope that keeps both players and fans chasing after something that eventually, only a select few teams a year can grab. The Braves probably won't be one of the teams to grab that specter of hope this season, but this isn't to say that it can't happen in the future, especially in 2017 in beyond. But for now, 2015 appears to be nothing short of a pipe dream, and I'm okay with that, even if "If" isn't.