The Atlanta Braves went into the 2014 campaign with high expectations after winning the NL East in 2013 with a NL-best 96-66 record, but a late season collapse (4-16 in the month of September) had them ending the year in a T-2nd with the New York Mets at 79-83, a full 17-games back of the Washington Nationals for first place in the division and 9-games back of the Wild Card.
While manager Fredi Gonzalez was retained, the team decided to part ways with general manager Frank Wren and replace him with John Hart. Atlanta followed up with a flurry of moves in the offseason. The Braves traded away Jason Heyward and relief pitcher Jordan Walden to the St Louis Cardinals for starting pitcher Shelby Miller and prospect Tyrell Jenkins (RHP). Some of the top free agents Atlanta brought in were outfielder Nick Markakis, second baseman Alberto Callaspo, catcher A.J. Pierzynski and relievers Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson.
The Braves decided not to re-sign veterans Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana, who combined for a 26-22 record last year. They also didn’t bring back Brandon Beachy or Kris Medlen, who both had Tommy John surgery in April. The good news is the Braves have a lot of young talent, including the newly acquired Miller, that figures to form a formidable rotation. The ace of the staff will be Julio Teheran, who is coming off a breakout year. While Teheran ended up just 14-13, he posted an impressive 2.89 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.
Mike Minor and Alex Wood are set to join Teheran and Miller in the rotation, but it’s still up in the air who will be the team’s 5th and final starter. Manny Banuelos, Mike Foltynewicz, Eric Stultz, Wandy Rodriguez and Chien-Ming Wang are all in the mix.
While I have some concerns with the rotation, the bullpen has the potential to be very good. Just how good will depend on what they get out of veterans Grilli and Johnson. One things for sure, Atlanta has one of the elite closers in the game in Craig Kimbrel, who leads the league with 185 saves since he took over in 2011.
There’s certainly some concerns surrounding the Braves offense in 2015. Atlanta scored just 573 runs last year, which was the 2nd worst mark in the National League behind the Padres anemic offense that produced just 535 runs. Part of the problem was the Braves had a mediocre 3.05 OBP (10th) and managed to hit just 123 home runs (11th).
Hard to imagine the offense taking a big step forward after losing Heyward and fellow outfielder Justin Upton. While Heyward had managed just 25 home runs and 115 RBI the last two years after hitting 27 homers with 82 RBI in 2012, he doesn’t turn 26 until August. Upton on the other hand led the team last year with 29 home runs and 102 RBI. Interestingly enough, the lone outfielder they retained was B.J. Upton, who became the first player in MLB history to strike out more than 150 times with with 15 or fewer home runs and average of .210 or worse in back-to-back seasons.
Markakis will take over in right field, while Evan Gattis is expected to move to left field. The two other changes from last year include Callaspo taking over at second base and the full time reigns behind the plate going to youngster Christian Bethancourt.
The one sure thing with Atlanta’s offense is star first baseman Freddie Freeman, but they are going to need him to continue to improve to get the offense back on track. Not only will the Braves need a big year out of Freeman, but they need third baseman Chris Johnson to rebound and Markakis and Callaspo to provide a spark at the top of the order.
- To Win World Series: 66/1
- To Win NL Pennant: 28/1
- To Win NL East: 15/1
- Win Total: 73.5
Prediction: 4th Place NL East (75-87)
There are going to be those that will call for the Braves to bounce back and contend for a division title in 2015, but I’m not one of them. While Atlanta’s starting rotation could end up exceeding expectations, I think there’s a better chance they disappoint. Teheran has the makings of a potential star, but unless Miller, Wood and Minor all have big years, this team is going to struggle to win games.
Atlanta simply doesn’t have the talent offensively to be taken seriously in the NL East, especially with the Nationals looking like an elite World Series contender. Both the Marlins and Mets have a better chance of contending with Washington than the Braves, leaving Atlanta to battle it out with the Phillies in the bottom half of the division.
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