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Griff says…Braves Will Overtake Phils for NL East Crown

I’m writing this blog because I love to talk about Braves baseball. I grew up in Wisconsin and started playing in Little League in 1957 when I was seven, the same year the Braves won the World Series. Then I moved to Atlanta in 1986 and that combination destined me to be a lifelong Braves fan. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have criticisms from time to time and in this blog you will sometimes see my ire vented. I expect most of you are the same so…bring it on.

Let’s start the juices flowing by going on record against most prognosticators and picking the Braves to chase down the Phillies and win the Division. What? Yes, go ahead and let your comments rip but there is good justification for my reasoning.

Our only glaring weakness is our need for a better lead-off alternative but that’s a subject for another blog. I’ll grant in advance that we have to stay healthy, swat the Nats and not lose any of the series we should win or everything goes out the window. But what team doesn’t have similar concerns? Here’s why I’m going out on a limb.

NL East Overview
The Nationals have improved the most this year in our Division, after the Braves. The Mets are bound to play better when key players get healthy and the addition of Bay. The Phillies improved offensively a bit by adding Polanco but their closing options and backend rotation are still very questionable. The Marlins didn’t do anything significant but also did not lose any important pieces and should be about the same. All that will make it harder for the Division leader this year to top 90 games.

But I see 92 wins for us with our starting rotation getting 72 and the bullpen adding 20. Complaints about our offense aside, we finished 5th in batting and 6th in runs last year in the National League and that is not bad. We have more offensive pieces and depth this year to support a few more wins.

Braves vs. Phillies Matchups
When talking about the Division, the full starting rotation is much more important than in the playoffs. Our starting rotation is superior to the Phillies. They have Halladay and Hamels and Happ but where do they go after that? They are struggling to fill the back end of their rotation. Our starting 3 can rival their starting 3 with Jurrjens, Hanson and Hudson or even with another combination. Let’s figure starting pitchers get about 32 starts a year. That leaves 64 games at the backend of the rotation where we have a significant advantage, barring any great signings by the Phillies. If we win just 55% of those games and the Phillies only win 40%, the difference is 4.8 games and that is huge.

Next, I believe the Phillies weakened their ace pitcher position with Halladay when it comes to head to head matchups against us. We clearly have had more difficulty with ace lefthanders than right-handers, due to the key lefty hitters in our lineup. I certainly don’t see how Halladay represents an upgrade in wins over Cliff Lee because Lee was already pitching great last year. Without Lee and with our right-handed additions, the lefty-lefty issue will not be as much of a factor now. Remember, we may get full years out of Prado, Infante, Diaz, Glaus and Cabrera, Chipper should be better and McCann should bounce back and hit lefties normally. With better overall hitting depth Ross will play more. No question our right-handed hitting will be much better.

Wagner is exactly the dominant lefty closer we need to combat the heavy lefties in the Philly lineup. He’s a killer and dominates. With the game on the line, I like his chances against Utley and Howard and even their righty hitters with his slider. Gonzalez was erratic.

We play the Phillies 18 times this year just like last year, including the last three games of the year at home. That could be interesting. Last year we won 10 of those and with our improvements it is conservative to say we can do that again and pick up another two games on them that way. That totals essentially a 7 game total advantage. That may give us the edge we need.

Braves are Significantly Better This Year
It’s hard for me to see that anyone can say our overall team is not much better. Javy was a favorite of mine and it was terrible to see him go. But realistically, if Hudson performs the way he used to he should be comparable. Defensively you have to say we improved as well since Cabrera, Glaus, Hinske and Heyward are all plus fielders. Yes I know Glaus is a new first baseman but he was already a good fielder, athletic, and will be fine. I’m over that concern. Offensively, when McCann or Chipper is out of the lineup this year, we have better options to pick up the slack. We should get a full year from Prado and Infante both and McCann can see again. If Glaus has a normal year he greatly improves the middle of our lineup over last year. Wagner closing out games seals the deal for me. He evokes confidence.

Sure injuries, sub-par performances, leadoff concerns and Bobby Cox’s sometimes confounding decisions about players and pitchers are issues. But this year is the year I predict we will overcome those things and win the Division. The Phillies get the Wild Card. Tell me I’m wrong but back it up with solid reasoning. I just wish it was April already.

Griff says…later.

12 comments:

  1. I think the Braves will contend for the NL East title. I predict that the race will be much tighter this year and the season ending series with the Phils may decide who goes to the playoffs. I would not be surprised if Derek Lowe has a banner year and leads all Braves pitchers with wins. Regardless, pitching will carry the club with just enough offense. I hope Jordan Schaffer proves to be the sparkplug that I think he has the potential to provide. Chipper needs to bounce back, stay healty for 140 games with 30 HR's and 100 RBI's. As far as the Phils go, Cliff Lee was a big loss but Holliday will probably perform better against the Braves. If not for Kawakami's performance last year he would have prevailed against us. As every spring season approaches, we begin full of optimism for the outcome of the upcoming season and this year is no different. 162 games will tell the story.

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  2. Agreed on most counts but I think Chipper's 30 home run years may be gone. You're right about Kawakami but keep in mind he is our #5 pitcher.

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  3. I think we got a shot with our offensive and bullpen additions, and our rotation has a chance to win every night. I also think its dependent upon limited injuries. We are basically hoping a majority of our runs come from a guy that may or may not bounce back and produce. Who knows? We're also in the same situation when it comes down to closing the game. Will Wagner come back and dominate? Two big "ifs" out there. Im not trin to bring the team down cause I love em and we have four or five 15-20 hr guys so were deffinatly better theres no doubt. Im just kinda annoyed with the signing of guys who.....how can I put this...are no longer in there prime.

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  4. No doubt that the Braves have been bargain shopping this year, which I would not prefer. But as far as bargain shopping goes, I would vote for them as my personal shopper so far.

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  5. Yeah but when Bobby made his announcement you had to think that something big was coming. Instead we let our best pitcher go for "the future". I was really dissapointed to see him go. I think he had lot to do with JJ's success. btw this is dover.

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  6. Oh, so you saw my post on the Braves site. Great. Just trying to create more topics and options. I agree Javy was a great mentor for JJ and will be missed. I guess after it is all over it looks like we had no choice but to deal him. But I think a better GM would have found a creative way to deal Lowe. Chipper thinks/hopes we might get him back after this year. I doubt that. I've got a list of a couple dozen topics to talk about so I hope to hear more from you. Invite your friends.

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  7. I hope Lowe will increase his value enough this year so we can trade him and bring Javy back. Lowe should bounce back and Javy is not going to match last year, especially in NY. That being said I would still rather have Javy. Javy would provide over all better value as a mentor/player not only on the major league club but the talent coming up in the near future.

    WisBrave

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  8. I'm with you Wis. Lowe will have a good year and may be available to trade to a big market club. Or maybe we have to keep him the full term. Perhaps KK can have a good year and increase his trade bait.

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  9. I think that Lowe or Javier would do nearly as well for the regular season but in the post season I think Javier would be a much better weapon. He's a strikeout pitcher and we'd be playing better than average teams. And Griff I think that if things go right the Braves could very well win the NL East as you say; they should at least strongly contend for the wildcard. I figure Chipper won't be as good as his batting title year two years ago but he won't be as bad as last year either! And Glaus will help the team a lot.

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  10. Amen to that Dover. Lowe did do well in the postseason for LA and back in Boston. But he doesn't have enough pitches. If his slider isn't working he's dead. Javy has 4 different pitches and commands them all. Much more important against premier hitters on playoff teams.

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  11. Check that. He does have an average slider but I meant sinker of course.

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