ESPN’s Buster Olney: Braves may beat out Phillies in East

ESPN's Buster Olney thinks the Braves may have a reason to give high-fives at the end of this season.

ESPN's Buster Olney believes the Braves may have a reason to give high-fives at the end of the season in the East.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — While this comes with no guarantees, one of the nation’s preeminent baseball writers says he is “leaning towards” picking the Braves over the Philadelphia Phillies to win the National League East Division.

I chatted with ESPN’s Buster Olney at Braves camp this morning and he went through a list of reasons why he is considering picking the Braves, despite the fact the Phillies have assembled one of the greatest starting rotations in major league history (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt).

But before passing along those reasons, this might take a little shine off of Olney’s possible prediction. As he and I were speaking, Braves general manager Frank Wren walked up. Then came this exchange.

Olney: “I might be the only national person who picks you guys in the

Olney says Phillies' lineup has concerns.

Olney: Concerns in Philly.

East.”

Wren: “Really? Wow. What’s your record?”

Olney: “I picked the Rockies to win the World Series last year.”

Wren: “Oh, great.”

Olney: “Yeah, I have no credibility.”

Actually, he does. Most consider Olney the best national baseball writer in the business. Few do their homework like him. Here’s Olney’s breakdown of the race between the Braves and Phillies:

♦  “The [Phillies']  injuries and the lack of balance [in the heavily left-handed] lineup are real concerns. They won’t see right-handed pitching after the fifth or sixth inning this year. The starting pitching is obviously unbelievable, but I think these guys [Braves] are deeper than what they’re given credit for and if Derek Lowe can pitch like he did down the stretch, their pitching certainly is good enough to match up. If [Craig] Kimbrel and [Jonny] Venters can fill the back end of the bullpen, this is a real good team. The every day lineup is certainly  better than what the Phillies have because of the concerns they have. Right now, they’re talking about [outfielder] Ben Francisco being the No. 5 hitter in that lineup [to replace the departed Jayson Werth] and that’s probably a tall order for him. They had 170 games lost to injuries last year in the infield. Jimmy Rollins’ OPS has gone down the last three years, since he won the MVP. [Chase] Utley’s OPS has dropped each of the last two years. [Ryan] Howard last year, because of the lack of depth in their lineup, saw a lot off-speed stuff away and it really seemed to affect them.  [Placido] Polanco is 37 years old now and he had elbow trouble last year. They’re an older team. The question is, how do those injuries manifest themselves and do they have the depth to make up for it?”

So, are you convinced?

By Jeff Schultz

Previous posts from Braves’ camp

Braves’ Lee Elia knows hitting (and what not to say anymore)

Chipper Jones gets hit in return and takes a swing at critics

Braves camp: Chipper’s return, Uggla’s debut, Cox’s spring ejection

Braves hoping to recreate chemistry from 2010 season

So what does Freddie Freeman (3 doubles) do for an encore?

Digi-Blog goes to Braves’  spring training at Disney (they charge, I don’t)

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

152 comments Add your comment

B

March 1st, 2011
10:13 am

Will

March 1st, 2011
10:13 am

rob

March 1st, 2011
10:14 am

@fauxfrankwren

March 1st, 2011
10:15 am

Olney is a genius.

Bill

March 1st, 2011
10:15 am

I’m just glad someone’s talking about the Braves instead of the Northeastern teams.

Theophilus

March 1st, 2011
10:17 am

I think the Braves has an outstanding chance to take the NL East this year. Should be a fun year.

Steve H

March 1st, 2011
10:18 am

I prefer to remain a pessimist. That way I would be pleasantly surprised if the Braves do win.

Athens Mike

March 1st, 2011
10:18 am

I think it can happen. I still think defense is a concern, but if we have a better line up this year, which we do, I can see winning more games than last year, which would be good.

justin1

March 1st, 2011
10:18 am

WOW. An ESPN columnist picking the BRAVES over the PHILLIES???!!

Worst to first

March 1st, 2011
10:20 am

The phillies are right at that age where injuries and a drop-off of production happens. I think Olney has a point,we are finally getting young again and the phillies just get older.I believe werth was the phillies only middle of the order guy to go uninjured last year

Fish Bisch

March 1st, 2011
10:21 am

The only way the Braves might be able to do it is if Chipper can play 140 or more games.

DHD

March 1st, 2011
10:23 am

It doesn’t matter. Everybody has an opinion. It is obvious that the Braves will be in the race and if you’re in the race, anything can happen. “If’s” are a part of the game. One thing I know. being a fan since 1966, it NEVER turns out like you think. There are injuries, breakout players and trades during the season. Bottom line…..it’s baseball season and we’re talking about it.

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

March 1st, 2011
10:24 am

I see the braves firmly on the bubble.
wait wrong sport .

Innocent Bystander

March 1st, 2011
10:25 am

Absolutely agree. Philly’s lineup got destroyed in losing Werth, and their ‘pen was never good to begin with. They probably would’ve gotten better returns had they signed a big RH bat instead of Lee, because as Buster pointed out, teams will ensure they see LHP as much as possible.

In my opinion, the Braves improved where they needed to the most by adding a RH power bat. Addressing needs before surpluses will certainly give us the advantage, and we are a much deeper team. Philly’s gonna get killed in Aug/Sep.

Brad in Jasper

March 1st, 2011
10:26 am

The beauty (and agony) of baseball is over 162 games, things get sorted out and the cream eventually rises as we saw last year in the NL East. Even a Braves homer like me could see that the talented Phils had been hit hard with injuries and the Bravos had late game magic out the ying-yang. In September the PHI rotation finally flexed its muscle and separated themselves to win the division. Then the postseason starts things anew and anything can happen. If the Braves play strong and at least take the Wild Card, there will be no shame in that. Most Atlantans wont tune in until the LCS anyway!

dan

March 1st, 2011
10:31 am

It’s ok. Every year for the past 4 years the “expert analysts” have found a reason to pick against the Phils. They claimed that the braves would win the division or miraculously the Mets would stop choking. The result? 4 straight NL East titles. I rest my case.

Paul H

March 1st, 2011
10:35 am

I’m convinced the Phillies won’t score as much without Werth and some of the others being on the tail end of their career, but I’m not convinced it won’t take just 2 runs per game for them to still win with that rotation.

collegeballfan

March 1st, 2011
10:37 am

I will take the Phillies for the division.

bravofan

March 1st, 2011
10:41 am

Jeff nice article I enjoyed that you may wanna fix these error: pitching certainly is good enough to match uo. Change uo to up
because of the converns they have. change converns to concerns

Herschel Talker

March 1st, 2011
10:44 am

Schultzie:

Buster forgot our biggest ace in the hole: we now have a manager with brain cells.

HT

The Living Legend

March 1st, 2011
10:46 am

Not convinced. Brave will not even Win wild card. It will be: Philly, Milwaukee, Colorado and then either the Cubs or Giants for the Wild Card.

jp

March 1st, 2011
10:47 am

I am predicting the Marlins to win the NL East. Mark it down, it was first said on this board.

My point is that predictions are pointless and no one is held accountable for them and only makes people look good but never bad.

kerryb

March 1st, 2011
10:47 am

I see it the same way Olney has. The Braves rotation may not have the recognition that the Phillies have but I think it is just as deep. I think the Braves will have the better bullpen. As for the everyday lineup, I give them 1B where we are starting a rookie but I think the Braves match up at every other position if McClouth returns to form. The Braves have equal or better power at 2B, better catcher, both teams have aging shortstops and third basemen, Braves have better left fielder and right fielder and could have equal center fielders. Does it really matter how the Braves match up with the Phillies?. Like Lowe said last week, they only play the Phillies 18 times a year and you usually split those games or one team wins 1 or 2 more than the other. It’s what you do against the rest of the league that matters.

durtydogg

March 1st, 2011
10:47 am

Im not surprised at all. If you follow Buster, he has a deep affection for the Braves. Trust me, I have read columns and seen interviews with him talking about them in the past. For some reason he is really a fan on the Bravos!! Thank Buster for not being, well a Buster!!! We all know how much ESPN hates everything Atlanta!!

jp

March 1st, 2011
10:50 am

another point for the Braves is they’ll have Ibanez, a guy who is 38, polanco is 37 and Rollins, Howard, Utley and Victorino are all in their 30’s.

I actually also think the Braves win it this year. My Marlins predictions was meant to be a joke.

kerryb

March 1st, 2011
10:51 am

I don’t agree with Fish Bisch’s comments about the Braves winning only if Chipper plays 140 games. When Chipper needs time off they will stick Prado at third and Hinske or Mather in LF. They won’t lose much by doing that.

Gary

March 1st, 2011
10:52 am

A lot rests with the young players on this Braves team. If Heyward and Freeman have big years at the plate, the older guys stay of the DL, and the vets they are counting on produce, this could be one of the best balanced teams we’ve ever had. As usual, injuries could ruin the season, but on paper, I think we can take the Phillies and make it to the WS. Go Braves!!

kerryb

March 1st, 2011
10:53 am

I wonder if the Cardinals will get desparate enough to take KK off our hands for nothing. The Braves could use that salary to make a deal if they need to in July.

gadawgs

March 1st, 2011
10:55 am

Yes I am and I agree with Mr. Olney. Yes, the Phillies have a formidible staff but ours ain’t to shabby. Our everyday lineup is better 1-8. Yes even with Howard, Utley and Rollins. Love our team this year.

6 P.O.A.J

March 1st, 2011
10:56 am

The Phillies will not be the same without Werth. They are all getting older and hurt much more often. The pitching staff won’t make that much of a difference except with the bank account. Look for the Braves to win it all this year.

Tech Sucks

March 1st, 2011
11:00 am

Will you are a douche!

Braves will win the East.

Fish Bisch

March 1st, 2011
11:03 am

Don’t count out the Nationals.

cantondawg

March 1st, 2011
11:04 am

i really like this Braves team. If Chipper can stay healthy and have a productive year i think we will surprise some people. I think Chipper, Freeman and Mclouth will be the keys to this team. If those three have big years, we will win the East

Jim

March 1st, 2011
11:07 am

Enter your comments here

Jim

March 1st, 2011
11:08 am

Dream on… I am.

DollarDawg43

March 1st, 2011
11:09 am

Staying healthy will be the key for both teams. Both teams have good starting pitching with question marks in each bullpen. Heyward needs to be a little more agressive at the plate and Freeman will have the normal rookie learning curve. The Phillies have age to contend with so each team has offensive challenges to solve.

The team that stays the healthiest and plays better defense (that makes me a little nervous where we are concerned) will prevail. I do like the look of this Braves team for this season and years to come. Now we just have to go out and produce.

BravesfaninNashville

March 1st, 2011
11:20 am

I think it’s going to come down to injuries. If the Phillies lose one of the big four in the rotation due to injury, which is likely to happen at least for part of the year, the Braves have the edge. The Braves need our entire pitching staff as well as Heyward, McCann and Prado to stay healthy all year and we can stay with Phillie all year. We will beat the other teams in the league at the same clip as Phillie does. It should come down to the last series with Phillie. I’ll be there.

BravesfaninNashville

March 1st, 2011
11:21 am

And Uggla to stay healthy……

jfreak13713

March 1st, 2011
11:22 am

That are ifs for both teams but I’ll take great starting pitching over possible injuries and issues with the batting order. For that reason I’d still say the Phillies are the Favorite to wind the division but I believe the Braves are pretty close and an injury or two could change things drastically.

The Brave have really big questions with Chippers health, the closers role, and defense but if those three things are just OK then the Braves have a real chance to win the National League! They will certainly score enough and I believe their starting pitching will be good and bording on really good. If they can close games out, play good defense, and Chipper can play 130 plus games at third then I’d say the division is within reach.

If Phillies lose even one of their starts or a key position player they are in trouble. The Braves can take a key injury because they appear to have a deep team but the Phillies are pretty thin.

GO BRAVES!

Phillisux

March 1st, 2011
11:26 am

The “Werthless” Phils have the added burden of unrealistic expectations. On paper, their starting pitching (top 4) looks terrific, but many are saying one of the best staffs ever. Maybe for one or two years, maybe not. Halladay is the only one currently headed to the HOF if he keeps pitching like he has. The line up is better than most, so I would not be too quick to say their hitting is anything less than a plus. Like the Braves, the Phils only need to average 4-5 runs in order to win most games, and their line up can do that. I will not be surprised if the Phils win the NL East in 2011, nor will I be surprised if the Braves take it. GO BRAVES!

Coach13

March 1st, 2011
11:26 am

Based on his logic it’s hard not to believe. The Phillies lineup is not as potent as it was 3 years ago and they aren’t very young either. That being said; Chipper will miss some time and if someone like Uggla, or McCann goes down as well for any extended period of time the Braves are screwed.

There are alot of ifs. If the Braves stay healthey, and if Kimbrel and Venters can lock down the 8th and 9th and if the Phillies succumb to injuries like their aging bodies and declining stats might indicate then yeah the Braves should be in a good spot.

George

March 1st, 2011
11:27 am

“one of the greatest starting rotations in baseball history” We seem to overhype everthing these days.

Chop Chop

March 1st, 2011
11:31 am

I know it’s hard to believe, but people have been talking up the Braves every year for the last five or six years. There are just so many fans who want to see the Braves as a team that gets no respect. You know, in order to think of their own team as some kind of rag-tag bunch of underdogs that will shock the world. I hate fans like that. The Braves will be good again this year. Who cares is someone picks them to win big? It means nothing.

john in PA

March 1st, 2011
11:38 am

I like the way this team is shaping up, and there is no reason not to think that this team could compete with any other in the NL. Our rotation could be top-tier. Our bullpen could also be up there in MLB. Our offense will probably be middle of the pack, though I do NOT think Chippers health makes or breaks us.
Having said that, I AM concerned about the Defense in the infield, about A Gonzalez overall (he did not impress me last year, but then again, hes always fallen off the table in the second half as I recall) and about the performance of our very talented, but young players.
But the thing that concerns me most is (and I do not have the numbers here in front of me, but if memory serves…)…we had 40-something come from behind wins, with 20-something of those in final at-bats last season, with an outstanding home record. Isall of that sustainable or repeatable? I’m not saying no, but its hard to imagine at this point.
How awesome would it be to torch those Phillies though? We still would not get any respect from ESPN-holes.

Dr. Warren

March 1st, 2011
11:38 am

I know this is blasphemous, but I think Fredi Gonzalez will be a big boon to the Braves’ fortunes this year. Coxball got stale years ago. Yes, he’s a Cox disciple, but here’s hoping for a more aggressive, less-businesslike approach.

Joshua

March 1st, 2011
11:41 am

Bullpen is not a problem…if we need to address it via trade, quality relievers are always easy to come by during the season. But with Moylan, Venters and Kimbrel anchoring things for us, the pen should be more a strength than a liability. I wouldn’t mind seeing either KK or Brandon Beachy in a long relief capacity in the pen either – I would prefer and assume the 5th starter spot will go to Minor by default because he is a lefty.

Joshua

March 1st, 2011
11:44 am

@John in PA

Our offense was 5th in the NL last year, that with Chip and Prado out for the last month, and now we have those guys back plus Uggla, who fills by far our greatest need, and you think our offense will digress? Not sure what you draw that conclusion from.

Hillbilly Deluxe

March 1st, 2011
11:44 am

If the Phillies stay healthy, I don’t see the Braves beating them but you never know. That’s why they play the games.

Joshua

March 1st, 2011
11:48 am

Also, our offense was probably even better last year than runs scored indicate, because all the teams that scored more runs than us played in notoriously hitter friendly ball parks, as opposed to the Ted which is notoriously pitchers friendly.

joe

March 1st, 2011
11:49 am

Hope the bravos can pull though and win the east, but the WC works just in case…