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.
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)
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.
Grab your Braves tickets for 2014 now!