It’s hard talk 2012 without reviewing the epic collapse the Braves had last year. We all know that the Braves folded late in September to the Cardinals. And they missed the playoffs after going 10-20 to finish the year and blowing a 8.5 game lead with just 23 days left. The problem was not lack of leadership, it was rather a compilation of getting unlucky, and worn down arms. In August the Braves had received a shot of energy from Jose Costanza, but that ran out in September. The main problem was injuries, after the all-star break Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens, two pitchers who carried the Braves in the first half, started struggling with injuries and control. The Brian McCann got hurt, and when he returned on August 14th he batted just .180 for the rest of the season. Next Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters, who had been virtually untouchable all season, started getting knocked around. But what can you expect when you make two young guys pitch 77 and 88 innings respectively? This is not to focus on the dismal collapse, but rather to examine just a few of the thing that caused the collapse. And from learning from previous mistakes possibly avoid them in the upcoming season.
Frank Wren could look like a villain or a genius for his quite winter, depending on how the Braves do. There was rumors of trading either Jair Jurrjens or Martin Prado, but nothing came of it. The Braves also signed Jack Wilson a veteran shortstop to assist and back up rookie Tyler Pasternicky. The reason the Braves were able to sit pretty all winter, was the wealth of young talent. The Braves are very excited about what Pasternicky can do with his glove and Wren said ” He has a very good approach at the plate. He really embodies that number two or number eight hitter type of role. He puts the ball in play. He can run and he handles the bat. I think we’ll see a little more professional at-bats than we did a year ago from that position.”
I think all Braves fans can be glad that Alex Gonzalez will no longer clog up the line-up. Next to Pasternicky will be future hall of famer, Chipper Jones. Jones can be very productive for the Braves despite being 40. But he will be limited to the number of games he will play. I would say 100-115 is the range of games he will play. That means his back-up Brandon Hicks will see plenty of playing time this year. First base will see fan favorite Freddie Freeman, who handled a sensational glove during his rookie campaign, and swung a sure bat with his .282 average and 21 homeruns. At second base the Braves hope Dan Uggla can provide a more consistent bat than last season. A year in which he went from villain to hero after his 33 game hitting streak. The outfield consists of Jason Heyward who struggled greatly during his sophomore year in right field. Michael Bourn who led MLB in stolen bases with 61 in center field. Martin Prado who had a let down year from his previous break out year will be in left. Though spring training is just beginning, it does not take much to figure out how the Braves line-up could look this season
Projected opening day line-up.
Michael Bourn – CF
Martin Prado – LF
Chipper Jones – 3B
Freddie Freeman – 1B
Brian McCann – C
Dan Uggla – 2B
Jason Heyward – RF
Tyler Pasternicky – SS
The pitching staff has lots of promising young arms accompanied by veteran Tim Hudson. Braves fans can also breathe a sigh of relief as Derick Lowe was finally traded. Jair Jurrjens hopes to have a bounce back year, along with Tommy Hanson, who retooled his mechanics to put less stress on his shoulder and also to stop the run game. The final 3 spots on the rotation are up for grabs. Tt is likely that Brandon Beachy will be in the 4th spot. While Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, and Arodys Vizcaino all battle for the 5th spot. Braves are really high on each of these pitchers, making the decision hard for Freddy Gonzalez and Wren. Tim Hudson is still limited right now and is expected to miss his first start. I would expect Hanson to go opening day followed by Jurrjens.
Projected opening day rotation.
Tommy Hanson (Till Tim Hudson is healthy)
The Bullpen backed by some explosive young arms, should look like this
Closer – Craig Kimbrel
Setup man – Jonny Venters
7th inning – Eric O’Flaherty
RP – Christian Martinez
RP – Chris Medlen
RP – Anthony Varvaro
RP – Cory Gearrin
The Braves also boast a solid bench with David Ross, Eric Hinske, Matt Diaz, Jose Costanza, Jack Wilson and Brandon Hicks.
All things considered the Braves have a lot to be optimistic about. They have one of the best rotations in baseball and a line-up that has the potential to score crooked numbers. No team can expect to avoid the injury bug, so with the Braves wealth of depth at pitching they won’t be to concerned if a starter gets hurt. Expect the Braves to battle it out with the Phillies all year and walk away with the Wild Card spot.