Atlanta Braves Predictions

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Atlanta Braves Predictions

The Atlanta Braves were able to capture their first division title since 2005, as they finished up an impressive 96-66. It came as a bit of a surprise, as almost every had the Washington Nationals defending their 2012 NL East title. Not only did the Braves pull off the upset, they finished 10-games ahead of Washington.

Unfortunately for Atlanta their playoff struggles continued. The Braves fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, leaving them still searching for their first playoff series win since 2001.

The good news for the Braves is they bring back a very young and talented core that looks poised to make another strong run in 2014. Atlanta does have to overcome the losses of veterans Brian McCann (C) and Tim Hudson (SP), along with a couple of key backups in Reed Johnson (OF) and Elliot Johnson (2B).

The Braves are expected to get back a healthy Brandon Beachy and have added a potential replacement for McCann in Ryan Doumit. Let’s have a look at what Atlanta will be sending to the field.

Projected Rotation

Kris Medlen (R) – Medlen wasn’t able to match his amazing numbers of 2012, where he went 10-1 over 50 appearances (12 starts) with a 1.57 ERA and 0.91 WHIP, but that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise given just how ridiculously good those numbers were. He ended up going 15-12 with a 3.11 ERA and 1.22 WHIP over 31 starts. Part of the problem is opposing hitters BABIP against him jumped from .260 to .306. Medlen also saw an increase in his walk rate (1.5 to 2.1) and slight decline in his strikeout rate (7.8 to 7.2). The key is he proved he can handle the stress of a full season. I would expect similar numbers to last year, if not slightly better, in 2014.

Julio Teheran (R) – There were some major concerns with whether or not Teheran was ready for a full workload at the big league level early in 2013. Seven starts into the season, Teheran was 2-0 but had a 4.57 ERA. From that point on he was light’s out. Teheran ended up 14-8 with a 3.20 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and an impressive 8.2 K/9. Now all the 23-year-old has to do is prove he can handle a 30+ starts in consecutive seasons. I don’t see any reason why he won’t do just that.

Mike Minor (L) – Minor is coming off his best season as a pro. The southpaw went 13-9 with a 3.21 ERA and 1.09 WHIP over 32 starts. He was the only Braves pitcher to top the 200 innings mark. While Minor just turned 26 over the offseason and is coming off a strong 8.0 K/9, his extreme fly ball tendencies (65%) will likely keep him from being considered an ace. Expect similar numbers to last year.

Brandon Beachy (R) – Once considered a legit top of the rotation starter, Beachy enters the 2014 season as the wild card of the staff. Beachy missed the first half of last year recovering from Tommy John surgery. He returned in July and would start five games, but elbow problems forced him to be shutdown. Beachy went 7-3 with a 3.68 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over 25 starts in 2011 and was 5-5 with a 2.00 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in 13 starts before his 2012 campaign was cut short. The good news is that he’s only 27. Players have been coming back from Tommy John surgery better than ever and his elbow surgery was considered to be minor. If he can shake off the rust, Beachy has ace potential.

Alex Wood (L) – Wood made 11 starts over 31 appearances for the Braves in his major league debut last year. He finished up a promising 3-3 with a 3.13 ERA, but his 1.33 WHIP causes some concern. As does his unusual delivery that has some questioning whether he can handle the full workload of a starter. Given Wood’s impressive 8.9 K/9 and live young arm, there’s a good chance opposing hitters won’t be able to match last year’s hefty .348 BABIP against him in 2014. The potential for a breakout performance is there, but it’s no sure thing. Luckily for the Braves, they have plenty of arms available if Wood isn’t the man for the job.

Bullpen

Craig Kimbrel (R) – I don’t think there’s any arguing that Kimbrel has cemented himself as one of the elite closers in the game today. Since he took over the 9th inning back in 2011, Kimbrel’s saved 138 games, including a career-high 50 in 2013. His career numbers are downright filthy. Since his debut in 2010, Kimbrel has a 1.39 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and a staggering 15.08 K/9. As long as injuries don’t get in the way, look for Kimbrel to continue to torment opposing hitters with his upper 90s fastball and dominant curve.

Jordan Walden (R) – Walden had an up and down first season with the Braves. He ended up with a 3.45 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 10.3 K/9, but many fans will remember his struggles down the stretch when he was dealing with a groin injury. One of the promising signs from last year was Walden was able to lower his BB/9 from 4.2 to 2.7. If he can stay healthy, he should be the front-runner for primary set-up duties.

Projected Lineup

Jason Heyward (RF) – Nagging injuries limited Heyward to just 104 games last year and his numbers weren’t all that great when he was in the lineup. Heyward hit just .254 with 14 homers and 38 RBI. He did have a relatively low .281 BABIP and let’s not forget he just turned 24 last August. He may never become the superstar he was hyped to be, but there’s still time for him to reach his potential. Look for a bounce back year in 2014, as long as he can avoid another injury-plagued season.

Justin Upton (LF) – Upton finished his first season with the Braves, hitting .263 with 27 homers and 70 RBI. Solid numbers as a whole, but Upton is as streaky as they come, which is a big reason why Arizona was willing to part ways with youngster. Upton exploded with 12 home runs with a .400 OBP and .734 SLG in April, only to follow it up with 2 homers and a .211 average in March. It’s scary to think what he could do over the course of a full season without the long cold spells, but for now it’s hard to predict anything more than what Atlanta got from him in 2013.

Freddie Freeman (1B) – Freeman is coming off a career-year in 2013, where he hit .319 with a .396 OBP and .501 SLG to along with 23 homers and 109 RBI. Putting up similar numbers in 2014 won’t come easy, as his .371 BABIP is simply unsustainable long-term, especially when you factor in that he had a mere .295 BABIP in 2012. He’s still one of the top first basemen in the league, just don’t be too hard on the guy when he doesn’t match last years stat line.

Evan Gattis (C) – With Brian McCann no longer in town, Gattis is expected to take over the primary catching duties, but don’t be surprised if newly acquired Ryan Doumit doesn’t spell him early and often. Gattis hit just .243 with a lousy .291 OBP, but he belted 21 homers and drove in 65 runs over just 382 plate appearances.

Chris Johnson (3B) – Johnson was one of the pleasant surprises for the Braves offensively in 2013. He hit .321 with a .358 OBP and .457 SLG. He’s not a big home run guy, as he hit just 12, but he showed plenty of power to the gaps with 34 doubles. Much like Freeman, a decline is almost certainly on the way for Johnson, who had a ridiculous .394 BABIP last year. However, it may not be that drastic considering he had a .360 BABIP in 2012.

Andrelton Simmons (SS) – Known primarily for his defense, which is considered the best in the game at his position, Simmons isn’t just a one-way player. While he hit just .248 and had a less than impressive .296 OBP, he belted 17 homers and drove in 59 runs. What’s promising is Simmons had a mere .247 BABIP, which you would expect to rise considerably in 2014.

Dan Uggla (2B) – Uggla is coming off a miserable 2013 campaign that saw him strike out an alarming 171 times and post a batting average of just .179. Not even his 22 homers were enough for the Braves to keep him on the postseason roster. While it’s unlikely 2014 can get worse for the 34-year-old, he’s going to have show some signs of life early to keep his starting job.

B.J. Upton (CF) – It’s amazing what the Braves were able to accomplish last year, given what they were expecting from Upton and what they actually got. Upton hit just .184 with a horrific .268 OBP and .289 SLG. He managed to hit just 9 homers and steal a mere 12 bases. We’re talking about a guy who hit 51 homers over the previous two years and was working on a streak of five straight seasons with at least 31 stolen bases.

Betting Odds

  • To Win World Series: 20/1
  • To Win NL Pennant: 9/1
  • To Win NL East: 5/4

Win Total: 87.5

This is a pretty low total for a team that won 96 games last year and is loaded with young talent. While I expect Atlanta to take a step back, hard to not like them to win at least 88 games.

Prediction: 2nd Place NL East (91-72)

I know this isn’t going to sit well with Atlanta fans, but I think the Nationals are going to take back the top spot in the division. As you can see by the 91 games I’m predicting the Braves to win, I’m not completely writing them off in 2014. I still think Atlanta has an excellent shot at making the postseason as one of the two Wild Card teams.

My concern with the Braves is their youth. It can be very difficult for a young team to handle success, especially when there’s no veteran leaders to calm the ship. Atlanta may not miss the productivity on the field of McCann and Hudson, but I think their leadership in the clubhouse will be greatly missed.

I also don’t think the Braves starting rotation is on par with that of the Nationals. I’m not saying Atlanta’s staff couldn’t be the better of the two, I just feel like they have a lot more question marks. Teheran has to avoid the sophomore slump, Minor is coming off a career year that will be difficult to match and no one really knows what to expect from Beachy.

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