X-Factor for the Braves this season?
A: Offense: Freddie Freeman. If he stays healthy, then Atlanta will have an offense. If not, then it will be a whole bunch of singles/doubles hitters trying to string together enough liners to score a few runs (and avoid GIDPs). Still, there should be offensive improvements at virtually every position except catcher… even the bench will be better. That was clearly needed.
Pitching: There really isn’t one player here. Emphasis has been on improving the bullpen and reducing the free passes allowed: nothing irritates Fredi Gonzalez more than that. If the starters can keep the team in the game, then there could be a lot of 1-and-2 runs contests.
Where do you expect the Braves to finish in the NL East and why?
TT: Philadelphia will finish last. Once teams pitch around Howard and Franco, that’s all they have… plus pitching concerns that are worse than Atlanta’s.
Like Atlanta, the Marlins have to have everything go right. Stanton has to be healthy; Yelich and Ozuna, too. Their pitching also isn’t deep. I do think Atlanta can compete with the Marlins and it should be neck-and-neck with them… around 70-75 wins. Not contending, but competitive enough to be a pain in the neck.
The rub (part 1): Atlanta has a brutal schedule through May:
- Open vs. … the Nationals
- Cardinals, then Washington again
- Dodgers, Mets, Boston, and the Cubs… all before April is done!
- More Mets, Arizona, the World Champs
- Finally, a bit of a breather… until the Giants come in at the end of May.
- After June starts with the Dodgers and Padres on the West Coast, it’s the Cubs again
Then things finally get a little better. If the Braves can get through all that and win 40-45%, then there may actually be something going.
The rub (part 2): I’ve already declared that Erick Aybar will be gone by mid-year. A couple of others could be as well. The question is whether Coppy allows the team to maintain an offense, which did not happen last season. That is why the 2015 Braves finished abysmally with only 26 wins after the 41-41 high water mark. Key injuries may force him into that “sell” mode again… despite promises to the contrary. If that happens, then the floor is deep – 100 losses deep.
To finish up, then, I do think the Nationals have an uphill climb vs. the Mets. The reason? Because Bryce Harper is going to walk 200 times this year. The rest of the lineup is going to have to force teams to pitch to them. If that happens, Nats win.
If not, then it’s probably the Mets again… if they can actually catch the ball (probably the worst team defense in baseball). But somebody has to win the divison, right?