The Braves in April: One Man’s Optimism

atlanta braves opening dayIt has been a long offseason, but we now stand at the precipice of yet another opening day. I started this blog as a sort of experiment, but quickly had to abandon it for school concerns. I have dealt with those concerns and washed my hands of their filth. Grad school is dead and baseball is rising from the dormancy of winter. So, I wanted to begin writing on this poorly named blog in earnest. What better way to get going than a predictions post, right?

I won’t bother trying to predict the whole season and postseason, because I’m honestly not that ambitious a person. Just ask my middling resume. Plus, the full predictions and projections thing has already been done numerous times over and with much more careful analysis than I would provide. Instead, I’m just going to predict the Braves in the month of April. I actually considered just predicting the one game in March, but I am at least a bit more ambitious than that. So, here we go; my thoughts on the Atlanta Braves in April (As well as that one day in March).

April (And One Day in March) Record:

16-11 | 2 games behind Washington.

I am fairly optimistic about how the Braves will handle the start to the season. I’d be willing to accept any and all accusations of naivety to that end, but I do think that there are aspects to this team which are being grossly overlooked or overstated.

It’s true that Atlanta’s pitching arms are disintegrating in alarming numbers. It sort of feels like a gag that goes on too long in a poorly written comedy—just less realistic. Despite this, the rotation will not even be the worst in the division to start off the season. Remember, this guy is a team ace now. Teheran and Wood should be able to get the job done, especially at the beginning of the season while they are fresh. Hale is about as unremarkable as it gets while Harang is quite remarkable but not in a particularly positive way. After just a week or so of that, Swervin’ Ervin and Havin’ Gavin (I don’t know) will step onto the scene and solidify things for the month until Minor comes back and we have a real rotation again. It really is not going to be as bad as it seems.

I think it will be the bats which carry this team to a positive April. Heyward, Freeman and Justin Upton each have the talent to carry a team on their back offensively. If even two of them start out strong and everybody else maintains non-2013-Uggla abilities, the order has the potential to top the league offensively in April. Especially when you consider that aside from the Nationals and Jose Fernandez (Not the Marlins as a whole), the Braves’ April does not hold much in the way of opposing starters. So, there you go. I think there will be struggles, and the Nationals will go up 2 games, but the Braves will be in the black and only getting better as the month winds down.

Bold prediction:

Dan Uggla will hit 6+ home runs and will be more useful than an Elliott Johnson caliber player.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not think Uggla will ever live up to what most fans wanted him to when he was brought over from Floriami. I do think he will start to bounce back, though. (Ian Morris wrote a great piece on this over at Talking Chop.) He has shown good power this spring, and I think fans won’t hate him quite as much as last October when very few were upset that his $13 million talent was left off the postseason roster.

Predictable Prediction:

Aaron Harang will be involved in 2 Braves losses and will not start again for the team.

I’d like to see him only pitch 1 game, but I don’t think that will happen. My guess is that he pitches as poorly as he is widely expected to against the Nationals and the Mets before being replaced by Gavin Floyd or David Hale (However you want to look at it). After that I could see him being relegated to the bullpen for a while to see if he can play the role Livan Hernandez played in 2012—sans the expectation of harassing opposing ball boys. Nobody could ask for that level of expertise or veteran contribution from Harang.

April MVP:

Julio Teheran.

I am really big on Teheran this year. I paid a lot of money for him in dynasty fantasy league; partially because I always allow myself one act of irresponsible homerism each fake baseball season. The main reason, though, is that I think he is going to be the best pitcher the Braves send out this season. He had a very good year in 2013 which included a respectable performance in the 2013 NLDS. As Mark Bowman pointed out, he is more confident in his own abilities going into this year. I think this positive furtherance of his mental and physical game will produce lovely fruit this year and he will dominate much of the division. Barring an inj…no, I won’t entertain the terrible thought. Be gone, evil anxiety.

Some Stray Thoughts:

– It seems like Justin Upton is being somewhat overlooked by a lot of predictions I have read. Maybe he can make his presence impossible to ignore with another April like he had last season. That is asking way too much, of course. It sure would be fun, though.

– Heyward will start big this April. If he doesn’t, I might have give Twitter amiss for a bit. The backlash from Braves fandom will be too much to bear.

– The batting order is going to change as much as the rotation isn’t it?

– Tailors be praised for the jersey updates! The red jerseys were an eyesore and the nameplates always made it seem like we just turned over the same jerseys from year to year like my high school basketball team.

– Aaron Harang makes me think of a Disney cartoon villain, but I can’t figure out which one.

 

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