This is what the Braves’ rebuild has been all about.
Just ask Nick Markakis. He’s been here for much of it.
Markakis is in his fourth season with the Braves, after nine with the Orioles, after signing as a free agent in 2014. After winning 96 games in 2013 – the last time the Braves reached the playoffs – the win totals were 79, 67, 69 and 72.
Here are the new Braves. They entered Friday’s game against the Phillies with 85 wins, a first-place seat in the National League East and a magic number of four.
“When I first came here, that’s what they told me,” Markakis said. “They told me, (20)17-18 is what they want. The first couple years were tough. I’ve been part of rebuilding processes before. It’s put one foot in front of the other. You can’t jump ahead.
“The last couple years, guys have trickled in. And not just trickled in, but made big impacts. It’s good for the organization. It’s good for the town. It’s what you want to see. Braves fans should be excited for years to come with the amount of young talent they have in this organization.”
Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran are the only Braves on the current roster who were part of the last playoff team. The rebuild has lead to a current roster with a mix of seasoned veterans and dynamic young players.
“With the exception of a few teams, it’s hard to win with all veterans,” Markakis said. “It’s hard to win with all young guys. It’s a combination of old and younger, which I think is the perfect combination. I think we have a good combination here. Great veterans and have you’ve seen, everybody’s seen, we’ve got great, young talent. You put the two together. We learn from each other. And we can go a long way.”
Mike Foltynewicz is one of the young building blocks. The right-hander came from the Astros organization, where he was a first-round pick in 2010. He was traded to the Braves in 2015. The Astros rebuild led to a World Series title last season. He has seen this before.
Foltynewicz said the previous two seasons have been about not losing 100 games. Not this year.
“We had that talk in spring training,” Foltynewicz said. “We said we are going to do this thing this year. Why not? Why are we here if we are not going to go for it all. That’s been the mentality from Day 1. All those walk-off wins and late rallies really gave us the confidence we needed all year. …
“We’ve had great players every year, but you keep inching closer. You keep adding guys. You keep seeing guys come up through the minors. You can see it happen. It happened with the Astros, and then I left. They were where we are right now. You see how it happens and trust the process.”
The Braves can clinch the division this weekend before they leave on the season-ending six-game trip at the Mets and Phillies. In fact, protective tarps have been placed on top of lockers in the team’s clubhouse, waiting to part of a champagne-spraying celebration.
“We’ve always believed we were a good team,” said Markakis, who made his first All-Star team this year. “Every year in spring training, no matter what team you are dealing with, everybody thinks they are good. Thinking you are good and being good are two different things. You have to go out and prove it. I think we established that early on. We played great baseball. Through the course of a season, you are going to have ups and downs. We’ve had our downs. That’s baseball.”