2014 ATLANTA BRAVES PREVIEW
March 12, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
Since 2010, the Atlanta Braves trail only one team (Yankees) in regular season victories. It’s the post-season where the Braves seem to have problems. The same movie played for Atlanta fans in 2013…96 wins and a quick post-season elimination at the hands of the Dodgers.
2014 is already looking like a re-run of 2013 as Atlanta lost two key players (C Brian McCann and P Tim Hudson) in the off-season and the front-office didn’t feel the need to make a big splash in free-agency. There is good news on the horizon for the Braves because they will leave Turner Field in 2017 for new digs in Cobb County. A new stadium means more money and that means more to spend on better players.
STARTING PITCHING: Manager Fredi Gonzalez has talent in his starting pitching but they lack major league experience. Without Hudson the Braves signed Gavin Floyd (White Sox), to a one year deal in hopes he can make a strong return from Tommy John surgery. Barring another deal, the Braves rotation will consist of Mike Minor, Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, Julio Teheran and Alex Wood. Minor has an exceptional change-up and will throw inside. Teheran finished fifth in the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year balloting and has a good fastball to go along with a nasty slider. Medlen had a higher percentage of swinging strikes than Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez or Stephen Strasburg in 2013. Beachy is close to being the pitcher he used to be before elbow reconstruction.
RELIEF PITCHING: Craig Kimbrel is quickly becoming a nasty closer. Kimbrel throw’s his fastball in the upper 90’s and mixes in an almost un-hittable curveball. His numbers show his domination (1.39 career ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 381 K’s in 227 innings and 139 saves). Supporting Kimbrel will be David Carpenter, Jordan Walden, Luis Avilan, Cory Gearrin and Anthony Varvaro. Atlanta is also counting on Jonny Venters coming back from his second Tommy John surgery.
INFIELD: Brain McCann went with the money in New York (signed a $85 million contract with Yankees) and that leaves a big hole in the Braves line-up. The trio of Evan Gattis, Gerald Laird and Ryan Doumit will battle it out for playing time. Gattis showed promise early in 2013 but is a work in progress. Doumit was signed as a free-agent from the Twins. First baseman Freddie Freeman is a solid MVP candidate after hitting 23 HR’s, driving in 109 and batting a solid .319. Freeman signed a new contract just before spring training. Dan Uggla needs to work on his offensive output after hitting only .179 in 2013. Uggla can hit with power (22 HR’s) but he guesses wrong too often. Andrelton Simmons is solid at short (17 HR’s, .692 OPS) and is one of the best in the field in baseball today. Simmons is a future All-Star if he stays healthy. Chris Johnson is back at third after hitting .321 in 2013.
OUTFIELD: Atlanta will need more from BJ and Justin Upton if they are planning on winning the division. BJ never seemed to make the necessary adjustments after coming over from the AL. For $75.25 million, the Braves expect more than a .184 batting average and nine homeruns. The problem with BJ is his undisciplined attitude and his swing is messed up to the point of no return. Right now Atlanta has to feel they made the wrong move with BJ. Justin was solid in 2013 (27 HR’s 70 RBI) but the Braves believe he has more in the tank. RF Jason Heyward missed 58 games because of injuries and that limited his production to only 14 HR’s and 38 RBI. When he is healthy, there may be no better lead-off man in baseball.
PREDICTION: The Braves organization develops home-grown talent and they sign players who help them win. Dan Uggla and BJ Upton are two examples of failures in the free-agent market. Freddie Gonzalez is a players’ manager who makes tough decisions (benching Upton and Uggla during playoffs) when he has to. The concern will be if the Braves can overcome the loss to McCann and Hudson to free-agency. There are several pieces to the puzzle and they have the pitching, but it may not be enough if the Upton brothers don’t come up big and if Heyward doesn’t stay healthy.
2nd NL East