Jump to content

Braves should be favored in tough NL East


Unknøwn
 Share

Recommended Posts

The Atlanta Braves are tied for the best record in baseball.

To be sure, nothing's shocking this early in the season (for instance, Adam Lind is on pace for 278 RBI), but the Braves' hot start makes a larger point: this is a team to be taken seriously.

In fact, the Braves, despite missing the playoffs in three straight seasons and despite the column inches devoted the Phillies and Mets, should be regarded as the favorites in the National League East.

First and foremost, Atlanta has rotation depth in its favor — and this is where they have a substantial edge over the Mets and Phillies. The front three — Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, and Jair Jurrjens — have a combined career ERA of 4.03, and they're at ages at which they're likely to maintain established levels (Lowe and Vazquez) or get even better (Jurrjens).

In Vazquez's case, he might be better than expected now that his home park doesn't inflate home run rates. As for recent import Kenshin Kawakami, he's an innings eater who figures to give the Braves an ERA around the league average (Baseball Prospectus projects a 4.48 ERA for Kawakami), and that means he'll be a useful fourth man. Future Hall-of-Famer Tom Glavine is presently on the disabled list with shoulder problems, and he may be out longer than initially anticipated.

The good news for Atlanta is that Tommy Hanson — the best right-handed pitching prospect in all of baseball — will be ready to step in should Glavine remain sidelined or succumb to age-related decline. If the Braves opt not to call him up, then they can get by with Jo-Jo Reyes in the fifth spot.

As for the offense, it's promising. Last season the Braves ranked a respectable sixth in the 16-team NL in runs scored, and there's realistic hope for improvement. Catcher Brian McCann, who's one of the most underrated players in the game today, is a potential MVP candidate; Kelly Johnson will produce at a high level for a second baseman; Yunel Escobar has a great bat by positional standards; Chipper Jones is one of the best hitters on the planet; and Garret Anderson and Matt Diaz form a respectable platoon in left. As well, rookie center fielder Jordan Schafer has a tremendous offensive upside, and he's bound to improve upon the sub-par work of Atlanta center fielders in 2008.

Offensively, the concerns will be getting adequate production from right field and first base — two certifiable power positions. Right fielder Jeff Francoeur spent the year receiving Rudy Jaramillo's hitting wisdom, and he's reconstructed his batting stance.

Will the results follow?

Francoeur looked good in spring training, but that means little. He's hitting for power in the early going, but that's about all he's doing well at the plate. Until he learns the strike zone, he's going to continue being a disappointment.

As for first baseman Casey Kotchman, his defense is unassailable, but his career slugging percentage of .411 is patently inadequate for his position. However, Kotchman is still just 26 years old, and he certainly has better plate habits than Francoeur. Most reasonable projections have Kotchman's faring much better this season than he did after his trade to Atlanta. If he can grow into a hitter who provides on-base skills, some gap power, and stellar defense, then he'll be an asset. He's likely to do just that, and it may happen this season.

The meltdown in Philly last week laid bare some of the Atlanta bullpen's problems, and indeed it's a source of worry. Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano form a nifty left side-right side combo, and Peter Moylan, despite his early control problems, has potential. There's not much beyond that, though. Barring changes or pleasant surprises, the Braves are going to have trouble in the middle innings.

Deep Left Field suggests giving Hanson a spot in the major-league bullpen. That gives Hanson a low-pressure, break-in role, and it also drastically improves the Atlanta relief corps. Lest this seem like a crazy idea, recall that the great Earl Weaver believed strongly in giving young starting pitchers a transition period in relief. Failing that, the Braves might need to pursue a trade.

Middle relievers are usually in abundance leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline, so getting something done — without touching any of the organization's most cherished prospects — shouldn't be difficult.

If the Braves surge to the top, then it'll be thanks to the best rotation in the division and a core group of hitters (Jones — if reasonably healthy — McCann, Johnson, and Escobar) that compares favorably to anything the Mets and Phillies can trot out. The challenge will be to win in spite of or to repair their dubious middle-relief corps. If they do that, they'll win the NL East.

A stunning turnaround for a team that lost 92 games a year ago? Somewhat, but not to the extent that you might think. The Braves' 2008 run differential suggests their record should have been a more respectable 79-83. So they're working from a higher baseline than their actual record would indicate. Throw in a revamped rotation and a pile of young hitters closer to their prime seasons, and you've got a team that's dangerous both to its rivals and to most preseason predictions.

In fact, the best team in the NL East probably resides in Atlanta.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree with this article a lot. You look at the 4 pitching staffs' in the NL East (I won't count Washington here), and this team has the most depth. If the Phils lose Hamels for any extended period of time, they literally have no one to replace him. Same goes for the Mets and Santana. The Marlins might have a little bit of depth in their rotation, but they will struggle mightily if they lose Johnson like they did last season.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Pujols only played in 148 games last year. McCann, in probably the worst shape of his life last year, played in 145 games.

Good point, but Pujols was also in the worst shape of his life season with the elbow as well. Went on the DL, and nearly considered skipping the season to have surgery.

There's only been one catcher to get an MVP in the last 30 years, and that was Pudge, who also has an amazing defensive reputation. It certainly isn't impossible as there have been a fair amount of surprising MVP winners.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Good point, but Pujols was also in the worst shape of his life season with the elbow as well. Went on the DL, and nearly considered skipping the season to have surgery.

There's only been one catcher to get an MVP in the last 30 years, and that was Pudge, who also has an amazing defensive reputation. It certainly isn't impossible as there have been a fair amount of surprising MVP winners.

Oh, the "in the worst shape of his life" comment was just to say that he still played in 145 games despite that fact. He's in probably the best shape he's ever been this year, so there isn't any reason to think he can't play in at least that many games this season.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

An issue with McCann winning the MVP is that he isn't going to play ~160 games.

Joe Mauer, Mac's counterpart in the AL, started 137 games last yr. and finished 4th in the MVP race.

Mac started 134 games, but played in 145.

So your argument has no merit. He'll have plenty enough of AB's to qualify.

Also, as to your point above that C's don't win MVP all that often, well, if a 2B'man can win it(Pedroia) along w/another 2B'man in Kent, then a C can win it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Joe Mauer, Mac's counterpart in the AL, started 137 games last yr. and finished 4th in the MVP race.

Mac started 134 games, but played in 145.

So your argument has no merit. He'll have plenty enough of AB's to qualify.

Also, as to your point above that C's don't win MVP all that often, well, if a 2B'man can win it(Pedroia) along w/another 2B'man in Kent, then a C can win it.

Where did I say he couldn't win it? I just stated it is an issue.

What does a second baseman winning it have to do with a catcher winning it? Second basemen don't get every fifth day off.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...