The biggest difference between the 2008 Braves, who finished with 72 wins, and the ’15 edition, who will be lucky to win that many: Expectations.
But that was before the pitching staff was decimated by injuries. Smoltz and Glavine combined to pitch just 91 innings, while Mike Hampton heroically fought through a bruised titty to log 78 frames. The season was already over by the time Huddy went down with a bum shoulder.
The ’08 Braves, bereft off pitching prospects, were forced to make do with the likes of Jorge Campillo and Jo-Jo Reyes, the Williams Perez of his day.
Injuries had little to do with this year’s futility, but the two teams had some things in common. Both were five games under .500 at the All-Star break. They also shared wretched bullpens — Jeff Bennett, Royce Ring and Vladimir Nunez were the Edwin Jackson, Ross Detweiler and Andrew McKirnahans of their day.
Offensively, there was no comparison. The ’08 team had McCann behind the plate, Chipper (who hit .364), KJ and Escobar up the middle and, for two-thirds of the season, Mark Teixeira at first. But the outfield was a mess; Jeff Francoeur hit .239 with 11 HR and was demoted to the minors for a day.
The ’09 Braves rebounded to win 86 games thanks to much-improved pitching, led by Javier Vazquez, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson. Rafael Soriano’s return stabilized the bullpen, and the offense, after a slow start, found its footing with the emergence of Matt Diaz and Martin Prado and the midseason acquisition of Adam LaRoche.
A similar turnaround in 2016 will require much more work and a lot of luck. Can Wisler and Folty develop as quickly as JJ and Hanson did? Can Arodys stay healthy and anchor the bullpen? Will Hector Olivera produce? Is Jace Peterson’s second half performance just an outlier? And can John Hart find an everyday catcher and/or left fielder?
The better comparison may be the ’89 Braves, which doesn’t bode well for next year. 2017 can’t get here soon enough.