Monday, February 23, 2009
Last year on opening day, nothing angered me quite as much as when John Kruk, my main man and a Phillies legend, picked the Atlanta Braves to win the World Series. This year again, as MLB Spring Training begins to move from workouts to actual games, many sports experts have picked Atlanta as a potential playoff contender. What are they getting all this credit for? Do people still think this is the mid-90s? Are they unaware that the Braves have not been in the playoffs for the past 3 years? Call me crazy, but I'm just not seeing the Atlanta Braves coming out of the NL East this year.
If you venture over to foxsports.com you will find an article by baseball expert Ken Rosenthal called "Improved Braves Look Awfully Dangerous" talking about how all of the Braves off-season acquisitions have made them much better. While there is no doubt they are improved from last year, I don't think they are "dangerous" in any way. Let's look at the additions they made, shall we? Atlanta's biggest acquisition in the off-season was probably the signing of Derek Lowe to a 4 year-$60 million dollar contract. I give this signing an F-. How can you reconcile giving Derek Lowe 15 million dollars a year? The self proclaimed "mental gidget" is definitely not a #1 starter and has gone 26-25 over the last two seasons. While he may log a lot of innings, and have a respectable ERA, I would never pay him $15 million a year. Moreover, I seem to recall the Phillies handling him pretty well in last year's playoffs. Other than Lowe, the Braves signed Tommy Glavine, the pride of Billerica, MA, and Japanese man Kenshin Kawakami. My lasting memory of Glavine is getting shelled for 7 runs in the first inning against the Marlins on the last game of the season in '07 to clinch the NL East for the Phils, and Kawakami is completely unproven. When you add these guys to a rotation of Tim Hudson who is out for half of the year, oft injured Javier Vazquez, and weird named Jair Jurrjens ("Double J") I'm not that impressed. It could work if all the bounces are in their favor, but there are a lot of questions here. The bullpen is also a big question mark for Atlanta. Mike Gonzalez was out all of last year, and his replacement Rafael Soriano did not lock down the closer's role in his stead, or stay completely healthy. When staying healthy is usually the biggest factor in the success of a pitching staff, I would not bank on great success from Atlanta this year.
In terms of the lineup, injuries are a question there as well. Can Chipper Jones play a full season this year. The fact that he only player 128 games last year helped him to his robust .364 batting average and a batting title. Also, can guys like Yunel Escobar, Jeff "Frenchy" Francoeur, Kelly Johnson and Casey Kotchman play up to what is expected of them? Last year, many of them did not. Expecting them all to bounce back is unrealistic. The one rock on this team is Brian McCann, he will have a great year at, and behind the plate. Other than him, a lot remains to be seen though.
With the World Series champion Phillies, the Mets always neck and neck with the Yankees in off-season spending, and the Marlins chock full of prospects, I'd say the Braves have it tough enough even without all of their roster issues. If I were a betting man, which I sometimes am, I would not place any wagers on the Braves making the playoffs this year, even if they are a "dangerous" team.