Predicting The Braves 2014


Predicting what the Braves will do in 2014 during the first week of March is a little silly but I’ve been called worse. So a few days ago Dan Hughes over at SoDo Mojo ask me about the Braves 2014 I figured I might as well jump in. He asked four questions about the 2014 Braves as part of his annual season predictions and I did my best to give him a well rounded view. Dan not only predicts places but wins and you can find his complete post by clicking here.  The Braves are on page three of his post headed by his predicted finish and w/l record. Keep in mind that I didn’t give him a w/l record or a place, he does all that on his ownsome using his secret sauce. So leave comments reflecting your view for him please. Here’s how I answered Dan’s questions.

Predictions

1- Why will this team exceed expectations?

The Braves will once again live and die with their pitching. Last season they rode their starting rotation and bullpen to wins when the lineup didn’t show up. While they don’t have a true top of the rotation arm yet, Mike Minor sure looked like one over the last season and a half.

Julio Teheran had a 17-game stretch midseason where he struck out 106 in 107 1/3 and pitched to a 2.34 ERA. Many feel he’s poised to take another step forward this year. Kris Medlen will provide a 200 inning 3.30 ERA season.

Healthy at last, Brandon Beachy will return to his 2011 form, Alex Wood will continue to grow as a major league starter while Gavin Floyd and David Hale will provide innings of solid pitching at the back of the rotation.

The bullpen features the best closer in baseball and a variety of arms creating a solid bridge to Craig Kimbrel. Speaking of the best, MLB’s best defensive shortstop Andrelton Simmons, will improve offensively, and the best right fielder in MLB – a healthy Jason Heyward – will generate runs at the top of the order and save them in right field with his glove.

Chris Johnson will prove last year was not a fluke by continuing to send line drives to all parts of the field.

2- Why will this team fall short of expectations?

Inconsistency. The Braves were a streaky, strikeout riddled offensive team last year. They tied with the Mets for most strikeouts (1384), 200 more than all other challenging teams except for the Pirates.

Many of these came from Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton who were black holes in the lineup where pitchers could go for guaranteed outs. As a result they were shutout 17 times last year, only the Marlins (18) were shut out more often and none of the other top clubs were close to that number.

Their main competitors in the East – the Nationals – had an injury plagued season that they are unlikely to repeat that while the Marlins, Mets and Phillies all improved.

If the lineup isn’t more consistent and the rotation doesn’t remain near the top in ERA and innings, the Braves will struggle to keep pace.

3- Look for the team to make (this trade)

Barring injury I’m not sure the Braves will make a trade. While some here at Tomahawk Take think they will look for a top of the rotation impact arm, there aren’t that many out there and GM Frank Wren hasn’t found sufficient value in any trade or it would have been made by now.

They have depth in the infield and outfield and the contracts they would like to move are not moveable. If a trade is made it will be something no one saw coming and if I have to prognosticate it will be a star no one expects for a player no one thought would be available.

4- Watch out for the emergence of (prospect)

The two names hear most often in our discussions are Tommy La Stella and Christian Bethancourt. If Uggla continues to struggle offensively you could see La Stella by the All-Star break.

La Stella’s fielding isn’t spectacular but he hits line drives and could well be the guy. Some here see Bethancourt sneaking into the lineup and staying but I think that’s unlikely with Evan Gattis’ power safely in the starting role and Gerald Laird an experienced backup.

Injury could of course change that.  Personally I think it’ll be a pitcher like David Hale stepping into a starting slot due to injury and proving himself as a back of the rotation starter.

 

Addendum of Detail:

I had to keep it fairly short for Dan and those of you who read my prose often will know that isn’t easy for me. As a result there’s a little background I’d like to fill in. I’ve been telling folks that I expect Freddy Garcia to at best break camp as the long man in the pen replacing Christian Martinez who as far as I know hasn’t yet found a home for his post surgery season.Barring injury before the season starts I think the rotation will consist or Medlen, Minor, Teheran, Beachy and Wood leaving the bullpen stocked with Garcia, Jordan Walden, David Carpenter, Luis Avilan, Anthony Varvaro, Cory Gearrin and Craig Kimbrel. If however the Braves decide to let Garcia seek new employment on March 25th (which is unlikely today but who knows what will happen) we could see Luis Vasquez there instead. The rationale for Gearrin – whom I feel the Skipper isn’t fond of – and Varvaro – who always cause an anxiety attack in my Braves Cave- over Vasquez is simply that they are out of options and he isn’t. The first decision crunch point comes when Jonny Venters is ready and someone has to go down. The next decision point occurs when Floyd declares himself ready to go.  At that point I think Garcia is DFA or traded since he likely won’t agree to assignment and there’s no room at the Ted Turner Inn. If David Hale isn’t the emerging star Vasquez and his heater could be.

In the field I have no real idea what Uggla and Upton the elder will do or how Justin Upton will stabilize his performance this season come to that. I don’t see La Stella pushing Ramiro Pena into DFA status because we really have no experienced shortstop to step in should Simmons need a day or two off if that happens. So the bench will be Pena, Laird, Jordan Schafer, Joey Terdoslavich and our DH (please don’t let him have a glove) Ryan Doumit. Doumit will be the RH power bat and the LH power bat. I know he had a down year in 2013 as a RHH but career wise he’s produce pretty good numbers from that side.  Gattis will catch at least 100 games because he’s going to hit and Fredi Gonzalez will need his bat in the lineup.  Uggla will start the year at second and if he can keep his average up around 240 everyone will be happy. 

That’s A Wrap

That’s the way I see it today which of course means nothing at all. Over at SoDo MoJo Dan predicted and 85-77 season and another Wild Card berth. I’m not sure 85 wins get a team into the Wild Card this year so we disagree in that. I think as well that the Braves will win more than 85 games or we’ll have new leadership next season. Dan makes a lot out of the loss of Tim Hudson and Brian McCann but quite honestly we’ve replaced both of them, at least to last years form. Huddy wasn’t our number one when he left and BMac hadn’t been himself due to injury for a while. Medlen and Minor have stepped up and Meds is taking the lead because at 28 he’s the elder statesman. Beachy’s return will give us the things Huddy gave us last year and more while Floyd and Woody will do the rest. I think the Braves will end up closer to 89 – 73 if the lineup doesn’t reprise its Jekyll and Hyde performances from last year.  In a division that’s improved a little everywhere and a lot in a couple of spots, I expect wins to be harder to come by all around. How will the rest finish? Ah well you’ll have to wait for that bit of knowledge, my crystal ball needs to be rebooted.

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  • http://www.tomahawktake.com/ Chris Headrick

    Shaking my head on the 85 win season, and wildcard prediction. No dis to Dan. The Braves have essentially the same team as 2013, and you’re right Fred, little should be made of the Huddy and BMac loss. Easily replaceable, and have been. Braves have essentially the same team, and won 96 games in 2013, so while it’s entirely possible there’s MUCH more competition in the NL East than last season, I think the Braves still win at least 90 games, and could easily win another 96. If everyone else stays on task, and Dan and BJ come around, we could walk away with the NL East. Any takers?

    • fireboss

      I think 85 is low but I look at the Nationals and expect them to win more. The Mets got better at the plate and look solid if not impressive in the rotation but their bullpen isn’t good. Th Fish will pitch but be about the same as last year. The Phillies are old but not senile they will pitch and if they stay healthy They’ll do better than last year. If that holds true and we continue not to travel well I could see us and the Nats neck and neck that would be neither team over 90. If we get more than expected from those two and pitching holds up we could do something unexpected of course.

  • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

    It’s the pitching that I’m concerned with the most…. not the quality, but the stamina. What Frank has done is pull in a lot of options (Floyd, Venters, Garcia) so that breakdowns can be patched as we go along. I know you wrote this before Monday’s game, Fred, but dang – Garcia now has the best line of any pitcher on the roster… oh wait, he’s not on the roster yet :). For sure, though, he’s throwing like somebody who hates being on a minor league bus, and he might very well make that #5 slot (particularly since the bullpen is really scuffling right now – they could use Wood).

    Beyond that, the Braves simply can’t have as many injury troubles as they did last year (2nd in DL days lost in the majors). Just for that reason, they should have more productive players on the field for longer periods of time. The young kids are a year older, a year wiser, and should be a year better. If Uggla’s truly better too (even by a little bit), then that will also help.

    Offense Wild Cards: BJ Upton, Gattis
    Pitching Wild Cards: Beachy, Wood, Garcia, Floyd
    Guys who could become beasts: Heyward, Freeman

    • fireboss

      Gawd I hate it when Discus dies after along response. I’ll try to be shorter and hope I’m not misunderstood.
      I did say we live or die with pitching.
      I wrote my rebuttal after Garcia pitched but his best use is still as a long man. With the locks in the pitching staff – Medlen, Minor, Teheran, Beachy, Wood, Avilan, Carpenter, Walden, Kimbrel, – and two out of option relievers the Braves likely don;t want to give away – Gearrin, Varvaro – and that leaves
      one spot for Garcia as long man, spot starter; the only starter job he’s able to do these because after seeing him once teams adjust and kill him. His value is as a surprise not a threat. When/If Floyd and Venters come back it’s a question of who goes. Floyd replaces Garcia, Venters is likely Gearrin as Fredi G doesn’t like him a lot. The AGM reiterated in an interview that they see Wood as a starter and that’s where I think he stays. The back and forth routine just doesn’t work, ask Joba or Neftali or a half dozen others.
      The Nats are good and their rotation is among the best. They will win more game than last year. The Mets improved, the Phillies are old but not impotent and the Fish will win games because of their arms. I don’t believe 96 is possible again unless the swing and miss twins area lot better than last year and the lineup finds a way to stop being feast or famine. Strikeouts need to drop and turn into productive ; we can’t be shutout 17 times this year and expect to win the division.

      • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

        agree