So, here we are again, the annual rite of spring, opening day of Major League Baseball. Okay, so the Dodgers and Diamondbacks got a jump on everyone by going down under in a convoluted scheme by the commissioner to expand the brand of MLB by playing a three day set in Australia. So, the Dodgers are up by 3 and Arizona is mired deep in the cellar of the NL West and everyone else is still busy unpacking and repacking as they prepare for the 2014 season.
However, since this is a Braves site, I won’t waste a lot of time worrying about the other 29 teams in MLB, I am going to focus primarily on this blog’s namesake. So, without further ado, let’s discuss the pluses and minuses of the Braves’ 2014 addition. First the pluses. Location, location, location…. or in baseball speak, the schedule. As opposed to last season when the Braves has one of the toughest schedules to begin the year, this season, Atlanta faces one of the easiest schedules. I’m not saying the Braves will win three out of every four games but at least they should not be mired 10 games behind the Nationals by April 10th. Is that even possible?
The Bravos who are clearly wounded by the double whammy of Kris Medlin and Brandon Beachy going down on successive days to elbow injuries, the Braves went from pitching rich to pitching poor almost over night. At least the braves were fortunate to have Ervin Santana still available for a late spring acquisition. While Santana might never be confused as a Greg Maddux level signing, he certainly may prove to be the guy who saves Christmas for the Bravos this season.
Mike Minor and his “Damn Brother, I don’t Think I would Have Told That” condition/injury which I am sure must have been both painful and embarrassing for him. I think I would have just said I got dropped kicked in the family jewels in a bar fight and been done with it. Anyway, at least it is not an elbow….. He should be back by May and along with off season trade pick-up Gavin Floyd, who is also returning from Tommy John surgery should give the 2014 Braves a much different look as far as their pitching staff goes. After all, a starting staff of Ervin Santana, Mike Minor, Gavin Floyd, Julio Teheran and Alec Wood/Arron Harrang seems infinitely more intimidating, at least on paper, than one of Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Arron Harrang and David Hale.
Of course, you just never know. Every team is on small tendon away from being on tap to being an also ran. The Braves still have a potentially strong bullpen staff. One which is the main difference between them and 20 or so other major league teams. Not saying there are not so weak links but getting back a strong Jonny Venters for the second half could be a real difference maker.
And think, we have not even begun to talk about the Braves’ offense. That could be the real difference this season for the Bravos. A rejuvenated Dan Uggla appears to be set to finally be the guy Frank Wren traded away play maker Omar Infante for. $13 million dollars a season is not that big a contract these days as far as professional baseball players go but for the Braves, it is a significant chunk of coin. Along with BJ Upton who without question was the biggest disappointment for Atlantan’s since Sherman broke thru the defenses of John B Hood in 1864, Uggla and BJ both appear ready to finally pay off on Wren’s investments.
Ryan Doumit also looks to be a good off season pick-up for Atlanta. A guy who has power and can play several different positions as well as catch give the Braves some protection against Evan Gattis not being able to live up to last year’s storybook season. I’ll be honest, I think Evan will get off to a bit of a slow start because he has not had the opportunity to get his timing down this spring. Remember, last year Evan won a spot due to his red hot bat which had the benefit of some winter ball to get him going. This year, we learned El Orso Blanco had off season surgery on his left knee. Who knew it was a problem? No one ever mentioned it last season. Still, the Braves will miss BMac but all and all, I think the Braves will be okay at the back stop position.
Freddie Freeman has been red hot all spring, he looks to be finally become the Super Star a lot of us all thought he would be. Personally, I have thought Fab 5 has been overlooked by a lot of folks as far as his value to the team. A lot of balls are snagged by Freddie that go as throwing errors for the rest of the infield whenever someone else occupies the 3 spot.
Jason Heyward has looked strong this spring and is poised to be the biggest and strongest lead off man in the majors. Put that in with a gold glove defense and I think we will finally see J-Hay begin a string of All-Star appearances. The other brother from a different mother (and father) Justin Upton hopefully will play with a little more fire. He can be really, really good at times but he sure can give appearances of being lackadaisical at times.
Simba keeping up his excellent glove work as well as the improved play of Chris Johnson at third can really benefit the Atlanta pitching staff. While I think it will be really difficult for CJ to repeat his 2013 season as far as his batting average is concerned, Andrelton’s continued maturity at the plate should make up for it. Simmons has surprising power but it is his low OBP which is worrisome.
The Braves have a strong bench with Doumit, Pena, Laird, Schafer and Pasternicky. The one thing the Braves lack is an extra power bat from the left side. Did we ever think that would be the case? After being lefty heavy for so many years?
So, let the games begin! Try not to get too high or too low because as we have seen for so many seasons, things can change in the blink of an eye. Riding high in April, shot down in May…. So true, especially in baseball. 162 games of nail biting and then there are the play offs but first you have to throw out the first pitch.