Vets lead the way as Braves' master plan takes shape

What do you get when you have some veteran moxie, a little youth and a brand-new ballpark? A quirky Braves team that actually seems to be playing according to plan. AP Photo/John Bazemore

ATLANTA -- One night can't determine the success of, well, anything during the course of the 162-game slog of the big-league regular season. But here and there, you have nights that exemplify what a team was trying to do when it's roster was constructed.

Saturday night was one of those nights for the Atlanta Braves, who beat the San Diego Padres 4-2 to remain unbeaten (in two games) at SunTrust Park. In a swift, 2-hour, 20-minute game, two newly acquired veterans -- R.A. Dickey and Brandon Phillips -- led the way for Atlanta, just like they were supposed to.

"There's a lot of great things going on for us right now," Dickey said. "We've just got to keep the momentum. I've said all along, it's about finding a rhythm here early on."

A quick recap: The Braves won between 86 and 96 games in each season of a five-year span ending in 2013 and made the postseason three times. After slipping to 79 and then 67 wins in the two subsequent seasons, it was time to rebuild. Step 1 was to reload the farm system and behind general manager John Copolella, the Braves have done just that, landing the highly coveted No. 1 spot in Keith Law's January organization rankings.

The next step was to develop all that talent, which of course is a process that takes place in the dim lights of minor league baseball. Trouble was, the Braves leaped into a $1.1 billion stadium and entertainment-district development plan that went on full display Friday, with the first official game at the new park. Some of the young talent was slated for regular duty -- Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte and Julio Teheran, most notably -- but not yet ready for a push into contention that would coincide with the new venue.

So over the winter, Copolella splurged on three veteran starters in Dickey, Bartolo Colon and Jaime Garcia, then acquired Phillips from the Reds just before spring training to plug a hole at second base and set up a new double-play combo with Swanson. The hope was to get better, field a competitive team that could mount a wild-card challenge, and buy time for all the young organizational talent to finish off their apprenticeships.

"We're getting there," Phillips said of his pairing with Swanson. "We're still learning each other. He's a polished shortstop, and I've been around for a minute. I can get used to a different shortstop. I played next to like 30 shortstops in Cincinnati. It's crazy. Maybe it was me."

After starting 2-6 on the road, the plan looked suspect, but things have certainly turned around now that the Braves have finally started their home schedule. And after Inciarte and Teheran led the way on Friday, it was the veterans' turn on Saturday.

The grayish-bearded Dickey scrapped a curveball he's been working on after allowing a homer to Austin Hedges in the second, the back end of consecutive shots along with Hunter Renfroe. After that, he went almost entirely to his signature knuckler, which baffled the Padres.

"[The knuckler] was dancing around pretty good," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "[Catcher Kurt Suzuki] did a great job with him, I thought."

The Braves went back-to-back themselves in the sixth, as SunTrust increasingly looks like a homer-friendly park. Phillips hit the first one -- his first as a Brave -- and was followed by a soaring homer to center by Adonis Garcia, putting Atlanta up by two.

"I saw a ball that I liked," Phillips said. "I went up there and said I was going to hit a ball as far as I can. It was just a fastball in, and I turned on it. It felt good.

Phillips' homer was a 438-foot shot that was his longest since July 28, 2010, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"That's all I got," Phillips said. "It could have hit the top of the wall for all I care."

Dickey departed after giving up back-to-back infield singles on tough comebackers, one of which he dove for and was left sprawled out on the mound. He appeared frustrated as he stalked off the mound, with two runners on the bags that set up the highest-leverage at-bats of the game.

First Manuel Margot flied out. Then the Padres' best hitter, Wil Myers, stepped to the plate and chopped one to Swanson, who went to his knees and flipped it to Phillips, who barehanded it and turned the game-saving double play with a rocket throw to a stretched-out Freddie Freeman.

"That was a game-changer," Dickey said. "A run scores there and you lose that cushion and it's high-pressure situations late in the game. He's been doing it for so long, nothing really surprises you. And Dansby smothered some balls with runners on second and third with two outs."

So a little youth, a little veteran moxie and the Braves had just enough. If you saw the Swanson-Phillips exchange on the big double-play as some kind of metaphor for this year's roster, those guys are way ahead of you. They've already branded themselves: Bransby.

"Bransby is where it's at," Phillips said, shifting into promo mode. "You've got to come to the ball field and see what we do. We're making highlights. We're making routines. It's fun."

This is exactly how Atlanta was constructed to win, with the veterans providing the stability and the youngsters providing the upside on a roster that is, really, a bit quirky. For one night, at least, quirky looked like a good pretty good plan.