Chipper Jones made an interesting point the other day when asked about the possibility of the Braves winning the National League East over Philadelphia this season: “We’re going to have to play more consistently against teams not named Philly. Philly beats up on teams they should beat up on.”
The Braves don’t. At least they didn’t last season. They went 19-17 against Washington and Florida last season (teams that finished a combined 149-175). The Phillies were 25-11 against the Nationals and Marlins.
That’s a difference of six games. The difference in the standings last season: six games.
The Braves open the season Thursday at Washington. I’m on record as believing they have the better team than Philadelphia (given injuries to the Phillies’ Chase Utley and Brad Lidge and the loss of Jayson Werth) and they will win the East Division.
I figured that pick was going out on a limb. Turns out that it’s not such a longshot after all. Several media outlets suddenly seem to have turned the Braves into a fashionable pick.
Here’s a short dance around the internet:
– Sports Illustrated picks the Braves over Philly. Excerpts from Jon Heyman’s analysis:
It’ll be considered an upset by all, but their starting pitching is terrific by any standard except for Philadelphia’s, they have not one but two decent closing options in Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters, and while there are defensive questions, at least at second (Dan Uggla) and third (Chipper Jones), Jones looks like he’s primed for a big finish, Brian McCann is in the best shape of his career and [Freddie] Freeman and Jason Heyward might both turn out to be megastars. … The Phillies have that fantastic pitching, good enough to justify their tag as World Series favorites. But their spring was an unmitigated disaster. Chase Utley is out indefinitely, Brad Lidge is hurting and so is Placido Polanco.
– Fox Sports picks the Braves over Philly. Excerpts from long time baseball writer Tracy Ringolsby:
It would be a made-for-TV season if Gonzalez rallies the Braves to a division title in his first year on the job. Give Atlanta the edge in the NL East. [Freeman and Heyward] are the foundation for the Braves future, ready to make an impact now. The old man, third baseman Chipper Jones, is returning for another year and showed no problems from the torn ACL that cut short his 2010 season. Major offseason addition Dan Uggla will provide some life to the offense, but defense is a question. The rotation won’t get the plaudits of the Phillies, but it’s a quality quintet with the youthful arms of Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. … Center fielder Nate McLouth has been a major disappointment. This spring, however, he has looked like the offensive catalyst the Braves need to have a contending lineup.
– ESPN has a panel of 45 making predictions. Of those 29 pick Philadelphia to win the East, 16 tab the Braves. Buster Olney, ESPN’s premier national writer, picks the Braves, as he hinted a few weeks ago when we spoke in Florida. Of the other picks, 18 predict the Braves to reach as a wild card, 11 say they will miss the postseason, 12 tab them to win the pennant and two predict they’ll win the World Series. Here’s ESPN’s video preview of the East.
– CBS Sports has a panel of eight experts, six going with the Phillies and two going with the Braves. Four project the Braves to win the pennant and one writer, Danny Knobler, writes that the Braves will win the World Series. (As a side note, Danny and I both are products of Ms. Fontes’ journalism class at University High School in West Los Angeles. But I don’t believe that had anything to do with his pick.)
– The Sporting News picks the Phillies to win the East and go all the way to the World Series, where they’ll lost to Boston. They say the Braves will miss the playoffs all together. Frank Wren just canceled his subscription. The Sporting News gives the West to Colorado and the wild card to San Francisco. An excerpt:
This will be a battle between the Giants and Atlanta Braves, but another of the majors’ best rotations will be the deciding factor. Despite also having a deep rotation, the Braves have too many defensive questions and aren’t very deep. San Francisco has offensive issues of its own, but its offense won’t run into the Phillies’ arms as often as Atlanta’s will
– Yahoo! Sports has three baseball writers making predictions. Two went with the Braves in the East, one with the Phillies. Tim Brown places the Braves fourth in his overall power rankings, behind Boston, San Francisco and the New York Yankees, and one spot ahead of Philadelphia.
There are a zillion more previews to be found. But I figure if you click-and-read the links, that should more than enough to fill your free time before Thursday’s first pitch at 1:05 p.m.
Oh wait. One more thing. Here are my 100-percent guaranteed predictions, if my name isn’t Rumpelstiltskin.
AMERICAN LEAGUE: Boston (East), Minnesota (Central), Oakland (West), Detroit (wild card).
NATIONAL LEAGUE: Atlanta (East), Cincinnati (Central), San Francisco (West), Philadelphia (wild card).
A.L. CHAMPION: Boston.
N.L. CHAMPION: Atlanta.
WORLD SERIES: Boston. (Sorry.)
Your turn. Let’s hear your prediction (and remember: It’s going on your permanent record.) Also have a poll up.
By Jeff Schultz