Ha ha ha…it looks like they’re having sex.
I figure since we’re around the end of the 1st quarter of the season, it’s a good time to review what the Braves have done so far, and what they might do over the course of the summer.
Most sports fans have their favorite teams in the NBA, NFL, and MLB, and many even have their favorite of their favorites. For me, I’m a Braves guy through and through. The Hawks and Falcons are lagging pretty far behind, and have all my life. When the Falcons won the NFC Championship in 1998, I was ecstatic. When the Hawks won…well, they haven’t really won anything of significance. But when the Braves won the World Series in 1995, I almost blacked out. I might have shat myself. I’m not sure. Actually, yeah, I probably did. Consequently, when they suffered one postseason heartbreak after another, I died a little inside. During the 18-inning game vs. the Astros in 2005, my wife was legitimately concerned for my health. Seriously. So, yeah, I’m kind of a big fan. BUT, I also like to think of myself as objective. Read on and let me know what you think…
This season has been quite an interesting one for the Bravos. Some people picked them to finish third in the NL East, some picked them to finish first. Heck, some picked them to finish fourth. All along, I was confident that we would have the best pitching staff, top to bottom, in the league (call it an east coast bias…I guess I forgot about the DBacks). With Smoltz, Hudson, and Glavine in the rotation, along with Jair Jurrjens, who showed tons of promise in spring training, I thought we had a solid group there. The bullpen seemed strong, with Rafael Soriano closing, Peter Moylan setting him up, and a collection of more than capable arms behind them (with Mike Gonzalez set to rejoin the pen by mid-June). The lineup seemed strong as well. Escobar, Chipper, Teixeira, McCann, and Francoeur were destined to produce big numbers, with question marks Kotsay and Diaz and a passel of bench players.
Then, a lot of stuff happened. Hampton got hurt (please notice I didn’t even mention him above…I didn’t count on him for 1 inning pitched (okay, maybe 1 inning) and no one in the Braves brass really did either. So, no harm, no foul), Glavine got hurt, Smoltz got hurt. There goes 3/5ths of the starting rotation. Soriano got hurt, and Moylan is done for the season. There goes your closer and set-up man. Teixeira got off to a bad start, and Francoeur’s season, to date, has been wobbly at best.
However, Chipper is hitting like gangbusters (I always wanted to say that, even though I have no idea what it means), McCann is doing what he’s done in the past–and will do for the next 7-8 years, Escobar has been what he thought he would be, and Kotsay has been an upgrade over Andruw Jones. Jurrjens has been one of the best rookie pitchers in baseball, Hudson has been his usual self, and the bullpen has absolutely pitched out of their mind. Along the way, the Braves have accumulated the worst road record and 2nd-best home record in the bigs.
In my estimation, some of these trends will continue, and some won’t. Chipper won’t hit .400. We all know that. McCann will continue to do exactly what he’s doing now. He’s on pace for 25-30 HRs, around 100 RBIs, and just south of 200 hits. He’s had the third most ABs of any catcher in the game, so it is to be expected that he may not catch as many games down the stretch as he’d like–so those numbers may dip a little. But he’ll be in that ballpark.
The pitching staff is patchwork at this point, but holding together pretty well. As mentioned above, Hampton and Smoltz are out. Still remaining are Hudson, Glavine, and Jurrjens, with Jo-Jo Reyes, Chuck James, Jeff Bennett, and Jorge Campillo filling in the other holes. Chuckie (I hate when people call him that) needs some more work, so I hope to see him in Richmond until we absolutely need him again. Campillo looked like Maddux last night, but of course I don’t expect that to continue (at least not that well). Jo-Jo is beginning to show us why the Braves braintrust held him in such high regard for the last couple of years, and Jeff Bennett has done anything the team has asked of him (starting on literally 5 minutes notice, closing, long relief, set-up, etc). The bullpen will be bolstered over the next few weeks by the return of Soriano, Gonzalez, and perhaps the addition of Smoltz.
I think the Braves will take the East. Why, you ask? Because Mark Teixeira is about to explode. It has been well documented that he starts slowly each season. It has also been well documented that he catches fire in late May, and stays hot through the end of the season. Well, it’s late May, and he has been hitting the ball pretty well the last couple of games. That would make it even more difficult for teams to pitch to Chipper Jones (and at this point, it’s almost unfair how well he’s hitting), and would provide another steady bat in the middle of the lineup that the Braves sorely need.
As for their chances in the postseason, that’s anyone’s guess. As evidenced by how much upheaval we’ve seen in the first two months, so many things can happen between now and October. I just want to get there again, and have the opportunity to soil my boxers. Yes, you read that right.