UPDATE: 4-5-2015 7PM, The Braves traded Kimbrel and BJ about an hour after I posted this, so just remove the parts where I talk about them. Not that I really did other than say I didn't think BJ would play much. Guess what? He won't play at all. I'll address the trade in total in my next post as I digest the money consequences.
It's Easter Sunday, and the Braves start playing real baseball tomorrow. I'm excited! Are you excited? If you're not and you're reading this blog, how did you end up here? Looking for Browns by the Numbers? Are you a filthy Cleveland fan? Google failed you.
Since you're likely a Braves fan if you landed on my blog doorstep, I'm going to assume you're excited. Alternately, I'm going to assume the rest of you are semi-worried this season could be a complete dumpster fire since John Hart traded away 60% of the team.
With those two diametrically opposed viewpoints in mind, it's my job to come up with some predictions for the season. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll call me horrible names in tweets that would make the Easter bunnies sad. Think of the Easter bunnies won't you? So without further ado, here are my predictions in increasing order of how crazy you will likely think I am.
- Freddie Freeman will have more walks this year than he's ever had in his career - This one is a bit easy for me to predict because I don't think Freddie will get enough bombers around him to keep pitchers from thinking, "You know what? Nah." I would say he'll hold the team high for IBBs this season. You'd also probably think I'm insane if I told you last year's team leader was BJ Upton with 5 IBBs. But go ahead, look it up.
- The Braves offense will be better than 29th in the league - I am not such a dooms-dayer that I believe trading away the batting talent will produce a worse offense than last year in terms of placement. I'm of the opinion that our offense last year was completely doomed due to the bang or bust nature, and we gave up trying to do the the little things completely. I think this team will commit to small ball to create runs rather than swing for the fences all day. Which leads me to my next prediction...
- This Braves team will strike out much less - It seems obvious, because it is. I don't think the terrible Upton will play as much, Justin is gone, and Heyward and Gattis are gone. Those four guys combined with 539 Ks last year. Assuming the worst with the new four guys replacing them on 162 game averages, they would still only clock in with 464 Ks. That's 75 less strikeouts or 14% approximately. Will it matter on the runs scored column? I honestly don't care, because it won't frustrate me as much to watch.
- Christian Bethancourt will struggle offensively - The Braves have been on this guy for years, and I simply don't buy it with his swing right now. I was hoping they would trade Bethancourt and keep Gattis until the next long-term prospect came long, but they love him. We'll see if the front office is right, but I'm not a fan of C-Beth's swing, and he'll never have any power like Gattis did. For a catcher, that's a problem in my mind.
- Chris Johnson will bounce back, and hit over .280 on the season - I think the pressure is off Chris, and I'm upgrading his status while others are writing him off as a one-time flash in the pan. I like CJ 2.0 to rebound in 2015. If you read my earlier piece on CJ, you'd know this was coming. You savvy reader, you.
- Eric Stults will be a surprise starter - I think Roger working with the veteran lefty will produce huge dividends. Mid-way through the season, I think the story about the Braves pitching staff will be about how this guy was a late spring decision, and now he's dominating his starts. Getting him out of the offensive cesspool that was San Diego will be good for Stults.
- The Braves bullpen will be an early problem for the first time in a long time - I'm not talking about Kimbrel, I'm talking about everyone else. There's been a wholesale changeover in middle relief and I'm not sure it's for the better. I can hope I'm wrong, but I'm betting we're biting our nails in the 6-7-8 stretches of games. It will take a while to round out, and I hope Fredi doesn't screw it up. Either way...
- The Braves will sign Fredi Gonzalez to an extension mid-year - I've thought about this for a while. Originally I thought they'd dump Fredi once his deal ran out by the end of this year. However, I think they'll resign him for a couple of reasons. The first is that I think they are running out the clock until the stadium, the second is that...
- I think the Braves will be leading the division at the All-Star break - Yes, you now likely think I'm either working for Braves PR or that I'm hearing voices from the family pets. Maybe I am nuts, but I'm looking at a group of rag-tag starters that I think are going to have great seasons. Plus I'm looking a team that's looser than they've ever been, with veteran leaders, and a willingness to do the small things to score runs. Call it a hunch, but I think this Braves team is going to shock people which leads me to my final prediction...
CBS picked the Nationals, Cardinals, and Dodgers.
SI picked the Nationals, Cardinals, and Dodgers.
ESPN picked the Nationals, Cardinals, and Dodgers.
It's amazing that they picked all the teams that won the divisions last year! Who would have guessed? I honestly didn't even look those up until I just typed them down, and I still could have predicted it, because national analysts don't actually think. They just parrot out the same crap over and over until they are right.
Baseball isn't that easy. Random things happen. Teams get hot. Pitchers suddenly round out where they hadn't before, and top notch pitchers suddenly have bad seasons. But moreso than anything, baseball analysts put very little value in a team without a ton of sluggers or big-named Aces. And there is a good reason for that because they are playing the odds. We're a society built to love the long ball even after the offense has waned and low-scoring games are more common.
I put my faith in great rotational pitching and solid day-to-day hitting, much like the Royals had last year. KC was 19th in overall team slugging, but they managed to win a lot of games with the 4th best team ERA in the AL. San Francisco wasn't a bomber team, middle of the road in runs and slugging, but their pitching carried them as well with guys like Tim Hudson and Madison Bumgarner. And those were your World Series teams.
So to me, it's not about big names or home runs. It's about a bunch of guys doing their jobs on a day-by-day basis, and having one of the best pitching coaches in the business round out a rotation. It's about putting the ball in play instead of constantly striking out and sucking the air out of the building. It's about being able to get a bunt down instead of waiting for the three-run homer to show up every day. In short, it's about getting back to what made Braves baseball great like in 1991. The Braves had one guy in Ron Gant hit 30+ homers that year. And they still went worst to first because of their great ability to leg out doubles, get on base, get runners in by putting the ball in play, and dominate on the mound with their starting pitching.
That's what I want to see again. That's what I expect in 2015 when others are expecting defeat. Well I can guarantee you one thing, there's not one guy in that clubhouse who thinks they are going to finish below .500 this year.