As Braves say World Series or bust, I say stop and smell flowers this spring

This run shouldn’t be taken for granted
Braves manager Brian Snitker smiles during spring training workouts at CoolToday Park, Friday, February, 16, 2024, in North Port, Florida. (Hyosub Shin /



Braves manager Brian Snitker smiles during spring training workouts at CoolToday Park, Friday, February, 16, 2024, in North Port, Florida. (Hyosub Shin /

The Braves began spring training in southwest Florida this week with no major questions about the team. There aren’t many minor ones. The Braves are heavy favorites to win the NL East for a seventh consecutive season. Only the Dodgers are getting shorter odds from bookmakers to win the World Series.

Already, this Braves season is becoming all about doing that. AJC Braves beat writer Justin Toscano reports players already are saying it’s World Series or bust. No doubt many of the team’s backers are saying the same. That’s understandable. The Braves won 101 games in 2022 and 104 in 2023 before losing the National League Division Series to the Phillies in four games each year.

That outlook is a mistake in my view. It’s good that the players are motivated to win it all, but they’ll win a lot of games along the way to that goal. The team’s supporters should take a moment to stop and smell the flowers. It wasn’t long ago that being optimistic about the Braves during spring training required suspending disbelief.

I remember all the times I went to Florida and heard the Braves say they would be better than expected. I didn’t think it was likely, and the players and managers probably thought the same. But I wrote earnestly about their sunny outlook because something about spring training, when anything seems possible, makes me soften my usual skepticism.

But, man, was it hard to do that for a while.

In the spring of 2014, the Braves were hoping Dan Uggla would remember how to hit again and said B.J. Upton’s swing changes would pay off. The Braves ended up releasing Uggla in July. Upton hit .208 for the season. The Braves won 79 games, which is remarkable if you look at that season’s lineup.

The Braves traded outfielders Justin Upton and Jayson Heyward after that season. They went into spring training hoping that journeymen Jonny Gomes and Eric Young Jr. would fill those holes. They didn’t. The Braves won 67 games, their fewest since 1990.

Right-hander Julio Teheran was coming off a career-worst season in spring 2016. The Braves had traded Shelby Miller in December. The team signed two pitchers who were gone not long after they arrived in Florida (Kyle Kendrick and Chris Volstad) and Bartolo Colon, who was more folk hero than effective pitcher by then. The Braves won 68 games while posting a 31-50 home record during their final season at Turner Field.

The Braves started spring training in 2017 optimistic that the lineup would be better. It was better despite Matt Kemp being out of shape and touted rookie Dansby Swanson not hitting much. Better hitting didn’t matter because Braves pitchers allowed the team’s most runs (821) since 1990 as the team won 72 games.

Those were gloomy times for the Braves. They scuffled with overpriced teams in the post-Chipper Jones years, then stripped the roster to rebuild with prospects. That strategy finally started to pay off in 2018. The Braves have been winning since.

Now spring training for the Braves essentially has become a time for players to get ready for seasons that we know will be good. General manager Alex Anthopoulos said the team needs to make only a handful of decisions on the edges of the roster. The Braves will be looking to see which pitcher should be the No. 5 starter. The Braves have a couple of bench spots to settle.

The roster otherwise has several top-tier players across the field and on the pitching staff.

The statistical projections at FanGraphs see six Braves hitters ranking among MLB’s top five in WAR at their positions. The exceptions are shortstop, left field and designated hitter. The best projection is, of course, for reigning NL MVP Ronald Acuna Jr. The forecast believes Acuna’s production will slip a bit, but that he’ll still lead MLB in WAR.

FanGraphs predicts that Braves right-hander Spencer Strider will equal his 2023 season, when he finished fourth in the voting for the NL Cy Young Award. Left-handers Max Fried and Chris Sale rank tied for 14th and 36th in projected WAR, respectively. Four Braves relievers rank among the top 60 in projected WAR, led by closer Raisel Iglesias (10th).

FanGraphs projects the Braves will win an MLB-high 104 games this season. The over/under win total is 101.5 games at most sportsbooks. The the statistical models and the betting markets are expecting the Braves to maintain the status quo.

The Braves are 515-354 since the start of the 2018 season. Only the Dodgers (558-313) and Astros (530-334) have been better. Just two other MLB teams, the Rays and Yankees, won more than 487 games during that span. By every measure, the Braves are among an elite group of franchises that have left the others behind for six years and counting.

I suppose postseason success could be the measure that’s an exception, depending on your perspective. The Braves have made it past the NLDS twice over the past six seasons, with one World Series title. My perspective always has been that the postseason is too random, so the best teams are decided before October. You can’t luck into division titles.

The Braves being good is as close to a sure thing as there is in baseball. That’s why I’m looking forward to going to Florida next week to see and hear what a World Series contender has cooking. I won’t take it for granted. I remember all the times I made the trip knowing that I’d have to work hard to find the bright side for the Braves.