In fact, part of me wonders if the entire Braves organization read my last post and took some cues from it. Chipper will have to wait. For now, let’s cover some final thoughts before this season gets under way.
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I’m still not thrilled with the record, but again, spring training records are not perfect indicators of how the rest of the season will go. Before the two teams went to Japan, both the Mariners and the Athletics had winning records in spring training, so take that into consideration. What I’ve been happy about is the offense coming to life. Freddie Freeman has had an explosion of power, hitting four home runs in two games and delivering in some clutch situations. Dan Uggla has been playing the way everyone in Atlanta was expecting him to last season. For Uggla, the first half of last season was a fluke, not the norm. Jason Heyward, another big question mark coming into spring training, has also showed some of the same spark he flashed in his first season.
The shortstop battle is still raging, with both candidates showing promise in opposite areas. Tyler Pastornicky has upped his offensive game, maybe not in terms of power, but certainly in contact, even having a four-for-four game against the Marlins. Andrelton Simmons, on the other hand, has had some struggles at the plate, but his defensive prowess has been on display. I’ve heard arguments that Pastornicky would suffer some psychological effects if he were to start the season in the minors after being given the starter’s role in the offseason. I certainly understand that angle, and agree to an extent, but this is competition and what this battle comes down to is who is best for the team. That said, I think Simmons could probably benefit from some more time in the minors, and it certainly wouldn’t mean he wouldn’t see some major league time this season.
On the pitching side of things, Jair Jurrjens came out Saturday night and showed the kind of performance he showed when posting a 2.07 ERA going into the All-Star break. It appears that he is finally trusting the knee that gave him so much grief last season. I’ll be interested to see Tommy Hanson‘s performance Sunday against the Detroit Tigers before I can feel good about his consistency.
Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy have had decent starts this spring, some good and some not so much for both of them. But the management displayed their true feelings about Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran when they picked up former Astro Livan Hernandez to be a go-to long reliever and spot starter. Needless to say, as a Braves fan, my hackles went up a little over that news (anybody remember game five in 1997?), but I do understand the value of a guy who eats innings and is a veteran to boot.
What I’m most excited about is the state of the National League East. I knew sometime in December that it was going to be the best division to watch this season, and I still think it will be. The records of all five teams this spring are relatively equal; well, four of those teams, but really the only four that will count (sorry, Mets fans, but let’s be honest here). There’s an amazing amount of parity in the East this time around and I think everyone will benefit for it. I don’t have the stats to prove it, but the Braves seemed to play down to both the Marlins and the Nationals when they were both worse teams. Not only that, but within the division, the Braves were the only team equipped to beat the Phillies and even they didn’t do a good job of that. This season will have very different results than last year.
Add to the mix Ryan Howard‘s setback with his heel and Chase Utley becoming a pretty serious question mark in the Phillie’s lineup and suddenly the east looks very different. Don’t get me wrong, their pitching is still more than satisfactory, but their offense isn’t going to produce like they used to, and those same pitchers will have the added stress of trying to keep a lead as long as they can.
This is going to be a great season and I think the results could be surprising and I cannot wait for it to start! Next time will be some Chipper Jones talk, I promise.