The Atlanta Braves aren’t a good team anymore. That label went out the window when Justin Upton came to town this past week. The Atlanta Braves my friends are a GREAT BASEBALL TEAM that is not only capable of doing great things, they will succeed in doing so.
Fist off we can’t forget that the Braves won a very respectable 94 games in 2012. And also mind you this includes the sluggish 0-4 start and playing 3 meaningless games with the struggling Pirates at the very end of the season. My point being this could have easily been a 96 or 97 win team had circumstances been slightly different. So we are already starting with a very good product and here’s why I think this years Braves team will take home the N.L East crown.
“UpUpHey”: The new look Braves outfield already has a catchy nick name and believe me they also have some SERIOUS talent. When I start breaking down this team suddenly our outfield becomes a clear focal point in terms of strength and value to the club. The Braves outfield is very special for a few reasons. We are talking about 3 guys; Justin Upton, BJ Upton and Jason Heyward who are all capable of hitting over 20 home runs, stealing over 20 bases and they can all field their position at a high level. Speed, power and golden gloves will grace the Braves outfield in 2013 which will be an enormous boost of confidence for our pitching staff in terms of defense as well as run production.
Lights Out Bullpen: The Atlanta bullpen has been a great strength of this team for a couple of years and Fredi seems to have found some very solid combinations for the late innings which allows us to get the ball to our All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel who had a record breaking season last year. As if the Braves bullpen wasn’t dominate enough, Frank Wren goes out and adds yet ANOTHER power arm in right handed thrower Jordan Walden. Walden possesses a mid to high 90’s fast ball and an impressive 11.1/9inning strikeout ratio. Combine that with a career era of just 3.06 you get one of the best “4th men out of the pen” in all of baseball. When you have arms like Johnny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, Jordan Walden and Craig Kimbrel you can basically play 6 inning ball games all year long. Talk about putting pressure on opposing teams. Would you want to trail Atlanta 4-2 going into the 7th inning? No, I wouldn’t either.
Starting Rotation: People can attempt to poke holes in our rotation all they want and believe me they’re trying. They can claim that some guys played to a higher level then normal last year and that we still lack experience at the back end. Let me tell you, this Braves rotation is not the same as the Greg Maddux / Tom Glavine era. But it’s still pretty darn good. We have the crafty veteran Tim Hudson leading the way, Kris Medlen who was completely dominate the last 2 months of the regular season last year, a great young arm in Minor who is poised to have a break out year and a very solid and dependable guy in Paul Maholm. The final spot is likely to be filled with top pitching prospect Julio Teheran who has been waiting in the wings for a while now. I’m very excited to see Teheran is capable of doing in a full time role with the Braves. He’s been up to the big leagues a few times in his career but never with any true consistency. Making a few spot starts here in there is never a true gauge of a pitcher’s ability and considering the offense Atlanta is going to put up this year I can’t think of a better situation for a young starter to emerge into.
A Healthy McCann: Brian took a lot of heat last year for his sub-par performance especially late in the year when he elected to play with his sore shoulder. His late season struggles actually amounted to him eventually being benched for the Braves critical do or die 1 game play off which just goes to show that Fredi Gonzalez lacked confidence in his veteran back stop. Despite the time he was playing hurt and the time he actually missed due to injuries McCann still managed to put up respectable numbers for a National League catcher. McCann hit 20 home runs and drove in 67 runs for the Braves, which isn’t his full potential by any means but in comparison to the average catcher those numbers aren’t bad. However in 2013 we aren’t looking for “average” from Brian McCann, Braves fans can expect an increase in production after he had surgery on his injured shoulder in the off season. McCann is ahead of schedule and is targeting Opening Day as his return.
Michael Bourn Misconception: “The Braves don’t have a true lead off hitter”. This statement is technically correct and can’t really be argued. It’s likely that Simmons will be asked to hit in the lead off spot as insinuated by Fredi Gonzalez. As stated Simmons is not the prototypical lead off man that Bourn is however there are a couple of things I do like about Simmons in comparison to Bourn. The first one being that Bourn only hit .222 for the entire 2nd half of the season and I’m almost certain Simmons can at bare minimum match that but I’m projecting something in the .270’s which would be in reality a great improvement. The other issue with Bourn last year was the excessive number of strikeouts, not only for a lead off man but Bourn struck out 155 times which is a lot for ANY player. Now Simmons doesn’t necessarily have the comparable at bats to Bourn but last year Michael Bourn struck out in 20% of his at bats compared to 12% for Simmons. With the added speed to the overall line up ( The Upton Brothers) the Braves may miss Bourn less then people had originally thought.
American League Power: The Braves are looking at a line up that has 6 players that are almost certain to hit 20 homers or more. This group includes BJ Upton, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann and Dan Uggla. I don’t think there’s any player in that group that anyone can argue won’t hit the 20 home run mark this year and we can possibly add in someone like Juan Francisco or Chris Johnson depending upon how much playing time they receive. This will be a very deep and difficult line up to navigate through and despite the strikeouts the Braves are going to score a LOT of runs this year.
Replacing Chipper: In reality no one can just “replace” a living legend and future hall of fame player. No one can ever wear number 10 or take Chipper’s place in terms of his legacy as an Atlanta Brave we can replace him in the simplest aspect of all, his 2012 production. This past season Chipper hit 14 home runs and drove in 62 runs. Chris Johnson who came over in the trade with Justin Upton, hit 15 home runs and drove in 76 runs. If you look at those numbers and compare them we would actually get 14 more runs batted in and one additional home run with starting Johnson at 3B over Chipper. Now of course we need to be practical here and not say Chris Johnson is a better player then Chipper Jones because he’s certainly not but in the here and now he’s more productive at 28 then Chipper was at 40.
Now it’s still early and we haven’t gotten a chance to see the team in action but for all the reasons mentioned above I have reason to believe this team is going to be a real force in the National League this year and a team that other organizations are going to fear. Having won 94 games last year
So with all of that said here are my predictions for the 2013 Atlanta Braves
Final Record: 100 wins / 62 loses
National League East Champions
Best Record in the National League
By: Bob McVinua
Today is Aug 23rd. There are 33 games left remaining on the schedule for our Atlanta Braves and we are currently sitting on a very impressive record of 77-52. These are very exciting times for Braves fans. Everything seems to be coming together now and we have the perfect blend of veterans and young guys to seriously compete for a World Series.
As excited as I am about the prospect of our team going all the way this year I know we still have to be realistic. Like I said there’s 33 games left in the regular season and anything can happen. So let’s take a look at how the Braves stack up in both of their playoff races.
N.L East – Phillies 82-44 Braves 77-52 (6.5)
N.L Wild Card – Braves 77-52 Giants 68-60 (8.5) Cardinals 67-61 (9.5) Nationals 62-64 (13.5)
So what stands out to you guys? Obviously the Braves are in a very good spot right now. Immediately you notice that the Braves have an 8.5 game lead in the Wild Card. And with 33 games to go you have to figure that if the Braves just play .500 baseball they will get in. The Giants and Cardinals have not shown any signs of making a serious run at this thing and the Braves really crushed the Giant’s playoff chances when they took 3/4 from them at Turner Field last week.
But why settle for the Wild Card? Sure there’s nothing wrong with being the 4th team in. In fact I don’t care how we get in because if you’re in it, you can win it. That saying has been true so many times in not only baseball but other sports as well. However why should we set the bar so low? If you look at the N.L East standings you see the power house Phillies on top, the team that “no one can beat”. The Phillies possess a 82-44 record guys, that’s almost 40 games over .500. Pretty impressive right? I mean lets be fair they are playing well and racking up a lot of victories. However you know who’s not being fair to us? Phillies fans certainly aren’t. Most commentators and analyst aren’t giving the Braves the respect they deserve either. This Atlanta Braves team is 25 games OVER .500 and they are in 2nd place in their division. That has to be a frustrating feeling for the Braves. However lets look at it in a positive light. Despite the Phillies Major League best record, the Brave our just 6.5 games back! We have put ourselves in a position where we are just hanging around and keeping just the slighest bit of pressure on those cocky and arrogant Phillies.
With the Braves sitting 6.5 games back I think they are in the perfect spot to make a late season push at the division. No one pays attention to a team that’s 6.5 games back. I guarantee you that the Phillies are not even giving us a second thought right now. It wasn’t that long ago that this Braves team was 9.5 games back but they slowly started to make up ground and creep back into this race. The Braves are in the rear view mirror and the Phillies are most likely to arrogant to realize it. The Phillies have turned into the Yankees of the late 90’s without the proven dynasty. This team is oozing with confidence and has no idea how tough it would be beat the Braves in a 7 game playoff series come October.
The Braves have the Wild Card in hand, it’s certainly not over but with an 8.5 game lead this late in the season, it’s their race to lose. If they don’t make the playoffs then it will be because of a major collapse that I honestly just can’t see happening. So they are playing loose, a team that has very little to lose in the case of the division. People talk about teams like the Astros and Cubs playing extremely loose because they have nothing to lose, that makes them extremely dangerous. Well what about this Atlanta Braves team? Are they not in a similar boat? Like I said this team is going to make the playoffs one way or another. Are they the Wild Card team or the top seeded N.L East team? That’s the only question. Winning the division would just be an added bonus that most people, including Braves fans aren’t expecting. The Phillies on the other hand will start to feel the pressure if the Braves can inch just a little bit closer. This is a team that’s SUPPOSED to win the World Series, never mind just the division. With that kind of pressure you might see the Phillies press just a little too hard at the plate. Or maybe over throw that fast ball just a little bit. Maybe Charlie Manuel will second guess himself and make a few bad decisions late in games. You never know.
Atlanta is just 6.5 games out of first place in the N.L East with plenty of time to go in the season. The next time the Braves play the Phillies will be on Sept 5th in Philadelphia. That of course will be a big series for both teams. However we can’t over look the fact that the Braves still have 12 more games before that series even takes place. 3 with the Cubs, Mets, Nationals and Dodgers. No disrespect to any of those teams but at the moment they are all sub .500 teams. Going 9-3 over those 12 games would be far from impossible. Even a nice 8-4 stretch would be nice. So it’s quite possible that the Braves could be a game or 2 closer then they are now when that big series in Philadelphia rolls around.
It doesn’t take a lot of time for things to turn around. The Braves have a very favorable schedule for the rest of the season. On top of this they still have 6 head to head meetings with the Phillies, which includes a 3 game set IN ATLANTA the last series of the season. Can you imagine the Phillies holding a 2 or 3 game lead, heading into enemy territory for the final series of the season? Things could get very interesting if the Braves continue to creep up in stealth mode behind the first place Phillies.
No matter how the standings turn out I still for see the Braves and Phillies battling it out in the NLCS. I believe the Brewers horrible play on the road will come back to haunt them as you can’t play all your playoff games at home. And the Diamondbacks are a great young ball club but certainly don’t have the pitching depth to make a serious run. Granted the Giants could pull through and win the West but their offense is struggling so badly I just can’t see it happening.
If this N.L East showdown did occur in the N.L.C.S then I just want all Braves fans to know that we will NOT be the under dogs in this series. And truthfully neither will they. We are two VERY EQUAL teams and we should have NO FEAR what so ever going into Philadelphia for a big playoff game. The Phillies have done nothing to impress me in comparison to what the Braves have done. Check out some of the stats and information below. I think after you read it you’ll feel the same as I do.
1) The Braves and Phillies are tied for their season series. Both teams possess a 6-6 record against each other.
2) Both teams are are 3-3 on the road in these series. So much for home field advantage being a huge factor if the Phillies win the East.
3) Braves are tied for 6th in HR. Phillies are tied for 15th. The true sluggers are in Atlanta, not Philadelphia. We have the long ball.
4) Phillies are ranked 1st in ERA with 3.07. Guess who’s 2nd? Yup. The Braves with a 3.31 team ERA.
5) Braves pitching leads the majors with strike outs (1064). Phillies are in 4th with (988)
6) Phillies are first in WHIP with 1.16. Braves are in 2nd with 1.23
I know I’m just throwing what appears to be “random” stats at you but I think that all 6 of those factors would affect a playoff series. We think of the Phillies as a dangerous HR team with Utley and Howard. Well the Braves are actually capable of hitting more HR then the Phillies are. People are obsessed with the Phillies pitching staff but the Braves have matched them every step of the way.
It’s not about names on a piece of paper. Yes the Phillies have Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. But names don’t win a championship. On the field performance does. Games aren’t played on paper they’re played on the field. Guys like Freddie Freeman, Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens and Brian McCann get it done ON the field. And that’s why I truly believe that the Braves CAN and WILL beat the Phillies in the NLCS.
By: Bob McVinua