The word "baseball" must leave a sour taste in the mouths of most Atlantans this off-season. After all, the Braves had an insurmountable lead in the wild card last September, only to be... well, surmounted on the last day of the season by those rotten Cardinals. (They ruin everyone's lives!!!)
However, hope springs eternal at this time of year, and the Braves look for different results despite really not changing a lot (or, any) of their roster. Let's see what the Braves have to work with this year.
(Photo credits: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, www.ajc.com)
The Braves offense was pretty pedestrian last year, ranking an underwhelming 22nd in runs scored. John Schuerholz the Braves President promptly went out and did nothing to improve it. (What's the definition of insanity again?) Here's the projected starting lineup, with Bill James's projections(AVG/OBP/SLG, wOBA):
CF Michael Bourn (.274/.339/.353, .316)
Michael Bourn was a deadline day deal for the Braves last year, coming over from the Astros for someone who sucks (I know this, because they now play for the Astros.) Bourn brings decent speed and defense to the Braves CF position, but not a lot of fantasy value. Hopefully a full season of Bourn will give the Braves something extra at the top of the lineup.
LF Martin Prado (.289/.339/.423, .333)
Martin Prado had a bit of a down year last year, but I'm rooting for him to rebound. (He and I share a birthday!) After bouncing around the infield for his first few years, Prado has moved to LF full-time now.
3B Chipper Jones (.278/.378/.461, .361)
What more can be said about Larry Wayne Jones? Man's been a great baseball player for years, and is a year or so away from riding into the sunset. He'll be at 3rd base again for the Braves as long as he stays healthy.
C Brian McCann (.276/.360/.484, .357)
Brian McCann is one of the best catchers in baseball.
2B Dan Uggla (.251/.337/.473, .349)
Uggla had a, well, uggly first half last year, but really turned it around in the 2nd half. Hopefully he'll get back to his career norms.
1B Freddie Freeman (.286/.350/.459, .350)
Freddie Freeman is going to be a great young first baseman. The Braves have a good young hitting core in this kid and Jason Heyward.
RF Jason Heyward (.269/.374/.457, .362)
Former Rookie of the Year, and the kid has potential to just keep on growing. Exciting to see what the kid does this year.
SS Tyler Pastornicky (.261/.311/.463, .299)
Pastornicky is the heir apparent to the SS position, but is in a pretty intense battle with another rookie, Andrelton Simmons. Simmons would be jumping from High-A Lynchburg all the way to the majors, though, so the job seems to be Pastornicky's to lose. Highly touted, good kid, but the jury's out on him as an MLB player.
Here is where the strength of the Braves lies: In their young arms. Unfortunately for the Braves, their biggest and most reliable gun, Tim Hudson, will start the season on the DL, recovering from herniated disk surgery. However, they have more than enough talent to go around. The rotation to start the year shapes up like this:
RHP Jair Jurrjens
RHP Tommy Hanson
RHP Brandon Beachy
LHP Mike Minor
RHP Randall Delgado or RHP Julio Teheran - the other will start in AAA as a starter (avoiding the Chapman treatment.
The bullpen is where the strength of this team is, with the three headed monster of Medlen, Venters, and the closer Kimbrel. A set of nasty boys in their own right. Eric O'Flaherty, Cristian Martinez, and the killer V's (Anthony Varvaro and Arodys Vizcaino should round out the pen nicely.)
David Ross is the lone former Red on the squad, so I hold a soft spot in my heart for him. The normal group (Heyward, Freeman, and Jones) are the ones who will kill the Reds.
I foresee a difficult fight for the Braves this year. They didn't change much in the offseason and the Nationals and Marlins both got much better. It'll be a tough fight for them to stay in it, but they definitely have the weapons to do it. I predict a 3rd place finish in the NL East for the Braves, with a record in the neighborhood of 84-78.