This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in the National League. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.
Today we look at the Braves, who boast a deep lineup, great pitching, and who seem to be in the hunt year after year.
Projected Lineup: RF Jason Heyward, LF Justin Upton, 1B Freddie Freeman, C Evan Gattis, 3B Chris Johnson, SS Andrelton Simmons, 2B Dan Uggla, CF B.J. Upton
Trivia time: When was the last time a playoff team featured not one, but two everyday players who hit under .200 for the season?
That would be last year’s Braves. And it’d be generous to say they were even remotely close to .200. B.J. Upton hit .184 and that wasn’t even the worst mark on the team. That mark would be Dan Uggla’s .179, although Uggla did draw enough walks to maintain a decent on-base percentage.
Quite appropriately, the Braves were bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
Now, you could take a couple of things from that.
One, the Braves clearly have some holes they need to address.
And two—If they choose not to address said holes, Uggla and Upton couldn’t possibly get any worse, right? What happens when the law of averages boosts the tandem back up to their normal levels of production? In fact, based strictly on the projected improvement of the 7th and 8th place hitters, the Braves should be considerably better in 2014. And that’s a scary thought.
Scary, because the Braves’ other young core players are all a year older and a year wiser as well.
Jason Heyward, for instance. After a rough first half, he finally started to pull it together in late July, and the Braves responded by making him their leadoff hitter. From that point forward, he hit .325 with a .406 on-base percentage. That second-half Jason Heyward looked a lot more like what I hesitate to call the “Heyward of old,” since he’s still just 24, but that’s exactly what he looked like—the dangerous, top of the order hitter who is the catalyst of the Atlanta lineup.
Then there’s Andrelton Simmons. The guy whose defensive exploits have prompted first base coach Terry Pendleton to compare Simmons to an old teammate, 13-time Gold Glove award winner Ozzie Smith.
But Simmons’ defense might actually be overshadowing some of the other dimensions of his game. As a result, no one noticed that his offense took several steps forward in the second half last year. After the All-Star Break, he posted an OPS of .789—higher than the second-half OPS of Dustin Pedroia, J.J. Hardy or Ian Desmond.
With Simmons’ improving pop and elite glovework, we’re talking about an MVP candidate for many years to come.
The big concern that has sprouted up recently for the Braves is the health of two key starting pitchers. Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy have both come down with ominous arm soreness, and are decidedly out for the season, which has left the Braves’ rotation looking a little thin.
It puts a great deal of pressure on youngsters like Alex Wood, who has never thrown more than 140 innings in a season as a professional. There’s no telling how he’ll hold up over a full season, or whether any innings cap will be in place.
The Braves picked up Ervin Santana and some additional insurance in Gavin Floyd, who is also working his way back from Tommy John surgery, and expected to return midseason.
The Braves’ starters will do their best to handle the workload, but it looks like this season will be the story of rookies trying to fill the gaping voids left by the two injured starters. It’s a story that doesn’t end well.
Projected Finish: 90-72, Second place in NL East, Wildcard berth