I know it’s early, but what are your expectations for the Braves this year?
They’re 8-2 in spring training — without Chipper Jones, Brian McCann and several others who are participating in the World Baseball Classic — and while that record may not guarantee anything regarding the regular season, I’ll take it over 2-8.
Heading into spring training, I was ready to go into rebuilding mode and be satisfied with watching the youngsters develop, but I might have to revise those plans. The pitching has looked promising, and the bats have been lively.
I’m not saying the Bravos will win the NL East, but it’s looking more and more like they could contend. Derek Lowe threw four perfect innings yesterday, Jair Jurrjens is getting back into last year’s groove, and I’m cautiously optimistic about what Javier Vazquez and Kenshin Kawakami will bring to the table.
Meanwhile, Tom Glavine is progressing well, and Tommy Hanson, who recorded seven strikeouts and allowed just one earned run in four innings in his last start, and Jo-Jo Reyes, who’s allowed only one run in nine innings this spring, will be waiting in Gwinnett should the big club need reinforcements. Also, relievers Rafael Soriano and Peter Moylan are looking good and throwing without pain.
As for the offense, I’m not among those who think we have to have a lineup full of 30-homer guys to get to the playoffs; I’m a bigger fan of smarts and speed. Get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in works just fine for me.
Case in point: The 1998 Yankees, who went 114-48 and won the World Series, didn’t have a single 30-homer guy in theirlineup. Tino Martinez led the team with 28, and Bernie Williams (26), Paul O’Neill (24) and Darryl Strawberry (24) were the only Yanks with more than 20. Somehow, they managed to outscore their opponents 965-656.
In contrast, the ‘98 Braves, who won the NL East with a 106-56 record but lost to the Padres in the NLCS, set a franchise record with 215 home runs thanks to four guys with more than 30 homers — Andres Galarraga, 44, Chipper Jones, 34, Javy Lopez, 34, and Andruw Jones, 31 — and they scored more than 100 fewer runs that year, 826 to be exact, while allowing 581.
This year’s Braves certainly aren’t the ‘98 Yankees, but they could be a team that gets the job done without hitting every ball over the wall. Having the right mix of smarts and speed, and enough power to keep the opposing pitchers honest, can go a long way.
How far do you see the Braves going this year? Are you in rebuilding mode or do you have hopes for the postseason?
• Check out our Braves Spring Training Guide