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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. The Atlanta Braves have confidence that the offensive improvement they showed the final two months a year ago wasn't a mirage, and they think that the three stop-gap veteran starters added for 2017 will stabilize the rotation.
If that is the case, the Braves could outperform most predictions and avoid a third straight losing season as they move into their new suburban ballpark just outside Atlanta.
The Braves won 20 of their last 30 games in 2016 to finish 37-35 after the All-Star break, and that took some of the sting away from another season of more than 90 loses.
"We had a really good second half," Braves president of baseball operations John Hart said. "The players feel that they can compete and win this year."
The Braves went from averaging 3.4 runs per game to 5.2 after acquiring veteran outfielder Matt Kemp from the San Diego Padres and promoting shortstop Dansby Swanson from the minors.
First baseman Freddie Freeman thrived with Kemp batting behind him and there were usually runners on base, with center fielder Ender Inciarte turning red hot from the leadoff spot.
"We all liked where we were at the end of last season," said manager Brian Snitker, who took over a team that was 9-28 before Fredi Gonzalez was fired.
The pitching, though, remained iffy in 2016 and the bulk of the young mound talent the Braves have acquired in their rebuilt is still a year or more away.
That's why the Braves signed 40-somethings Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey and traded for Jamie Garcia.
"We added three veteran pitchers and didn't touch our farm system," general manager John Coppolella said. "I think we've given ourselves a much better chance to compete this year."
Two-time All-Star Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz, impressive this spring, fill out the rotation and veteran Jim Johnson was re-signed as the closer.
If the Braves are to win 80 or more games, though, it likely will be mainly because of their lineup, which was further boosted with the addition of second baseman Brandon Phillips.
"I feel we can go out there and win, especially with these veteran guys we brought in," said Kemp, who had 35 homers and 108 RBIs with the Braves and Padres last year. "Hopefully the last two months (of 2016) can be a whole season."
"When we traded for Matt, it showed we were ready to win," said Freeman, who had 34 homers and hit .302 a year ago after batting .365 in the final 50 games. "The optimism is high. It should be an exciting season."