Saturday, April 2, 2016

Braves Bold Predictions 2016

This is the last weekend with no Braves baseball that we'll have until hopefully October, assuming you don't count the All-Star blizz-blazz they do in July. Personally, that fills me with the sort of happy anticipation that usually only really good vacations or really cute ladies can occupy. But Braves baseball? It's easily my favorite sport by far, and I would trade any other sport I watch for the daily ritual that is the ball and bat.

That being said, every year on the blog I put out a column where I make some bold predictions about the season. Sometimes they are right. Sometimes they are hilariously wrong. The percentages are actually pretty close to 50-50 over the years, and if I was a batter that kind of average would put me in the hall of fame. So obviously I'm awesome at this. But not really. But kinda. I'm like an unbiased flip of a coin when you get down to it, and I'm way more entertaining than that anyway.

So this year I'll do 10 more bold predictions for the Braves, in addition to a total number of wins for the team, and where I think the NL East will finish in terms of every team's final win totals. Shall we start? Let's start.

  1. The Braves will finish with more than 100 Home Runs - Last season, the Braves only hit 100 homers on the nose. That was dead last in the majors. It was also due to the fact that the Braves unloaded almost every power player they had. But this season I'm banking on 4 things that will increase those totals. Freddie Freeman's wrist is healthier, Nick Markakis isn't coming off neck surgery, Adonis Garcia is going to start, and Hector Olivera has found his stroke. If all four of those players do what they're supposed to do, I wouldn't be shocked to see the Braves hit closer to 130 homers this season. 
  2. The Bullpen will be better than 2015's greasefire - Granted, that's not a huge stretch considering that last year's pen was a mismash of craziness that included Matt Marksberry, a not ready for primetime rookie, as a main fixture. But from the quotes that Fredi Gonzalez has been throwing out there, he's actually planning to learn from his bullpen mismanagement of the past. I think the front office finally sat him down and forced him to read "Bullpen for dummies." Rule #1 is don't throw your greenest asset into a tie game in a RISP position just because you think you need to save your closer for the 9th inning. When the game's on the line, it's on the line now. Not later.
  3. Jason Grilli won't be on the team in the second half of the season - I think this for two reasons. One, I think the Braves are likely sellers at the deadline again, which would make sense given that nobody really believes this is a playoff year for a rebuilding team. Two, because Grilli is an actual pitching asset with some life left, he's going to have value assuming he comes off his injury healthy. Plus his contract is very team-friendly at 3.5M for the season. However, given his age if Grilli really struggled, I think the Braves wouldn't shy away from cutting him and moving up a younger prospect in the second half to test the waters. Either way, I'll be surprised if Grilli is here beyond July.
  4. Hector Olivera will lead the team in batting average - Let's assume 200 ABs to qualify, but I think Hector Olivera will be this year's best pure hitter on the team. Everything I watch about his swing looks like he's retooled it to be purer, more compact, less moving parts, and less about pure unchecked power. That's a good thing for a hitter because when you focus on the basics of a good swing, it doesn't slump as easy. Compare to a guy with an all or nothing swing like Dan Uggla or BJ Upton, and you know exactly what I mean.
  5. Defense will be a major problem for this Braves team - I fully expect errors this year. We've removed Andrelton Simmons from the middle, shifted around the majority of the outfield with Olivera likely playing left (a position he's never played), and we're likely playing a rotation of guys at 2nd and 3rd base. The Braves defense was middle of the road last season, and I expect a lot worse this year. If we finish above 20th, I'll be floored. Especially given how many times Simba bailed us out of trouble.
  6. Julio Teheran will have his best season so far - Last season was such a disaster for Julio both physically and mentally, and fans kept questioning if he'd lost it. I still maintain that he was hurt in his lower body and would never admit it publicly, and I'll stick to that no matter what anybody else told me. Guys lie about injuries, and the Braves are no exactly wide-open with the media about them either. But with that said, Julio has had time to recover this off-season, and he's going to be the undisputed Ace of the young staff. That kind of responsibility really makes some players shine, and I think Julio is one of them.
  7. The Braves will have their first no-hitter since 1994 - Go with me on this one. Kent Mercker is the last guy to get one for the Braves, but they've been dazzlingly close since then. Shelby Miller should have had one, but it was wrecked on the last out in the 9th. This season, with very few expectations? Call me crazy, but I think it's the perfect storm for somebody out there to beat the odds and throw the first Braves no-no in over 20 years.
  8. Much fewer shutout losses in 2016 - I think the Braves will score runs this year, and though I'm unsure about their ability to hold leads with the makeshift pitching staff, I don't think we'll have to suffer as a fanbase through 17 shutout losses like we did in 2015. So I'm going to put the number at 10% or less shutout losses in 2016.
  9. Three All-Stars for the Braves in 2016 - The team as whole may struggle, but I think a few guys will really step up and get All-Star nods in 2016. Julio Teheran, Freddie Freeman, and Hector Olivera are my choices for Braves All-Star this season.
  10. The team will have it's highest OPS since 2010 - Remember OPS is slugging and on-base percentages added together, and the best the Braves have done in that category since the 2010 season is .723 in 2013. I think this year's hitting will be better, mostly due to an bigger focus on on-base with speed, and more gap to gap power in the outfield positions.
Which leaves us with the win total. Personally, I'm not as crazy about this year's team winning a ton of games simply because the pitching will be a problem day to day. But I think with good offense you can overcome some of that, and with young talent that doesn't know better they'll slightly overperform the Vegas over/under of 66.5 wins. So my prediction for the Braves record is 72 wins this season. And he's how the NL East will shake out.

Mets 92 wins
Miami 86 wins
Nationals 85 wins
Braves 72 wins
Phillies 64 wins

The Braves will finish 4th in my estimation. Ahead of the Phillies who will be awful, but still entertaining enough to watch where we're thinking the rebuild is headed in the right direction. I think the surprise team will be Miami this year, and the Nationals will continue to disappoint everybody because that's what they do.

And that's that. Let's go forth and enjoy another season of Braves baseball!

GO BRAVES!

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