The Braves are springing forward, but does it matter?

They’re exhibitions. They don’t really count. Except sometimes they do, kind of, and the Braves are hoping this is such a time.

“It makes for a good camp when you’re winning games,” Bobby Cox said Sunday, speaking on the bus ride back from Port St. Lucie, where his team had lost to the Mets. It marked only fifth time in 21 games the 2009 Braves had been beaten, and the first time all spring, according to Cox, his guys hadn’t pitched well. “One bad inning,” he said, sounding in midseason form.

Even Cox, who could find a rainbow in a sump pump, wouldn’t try to overstate the value of exhibition games. “Spring training is to get everyone in shape,” he said, not ready to take 16-5 as a predictor of impending majesty. And it didn’t matter whether the old Braves were 16-5 or 5-16 in Florida — they knew they knew how to win. But these are not the old Braves.

The old Braves never lost 90 for-real games. (We have to go back to the really old Braves of 1990 for that.) The old Braves never finished fourth in a five-team division and then experienced such a whirlwind winter. John Smoltz left and Derek Lowe arrived and Ken Griffey Jr. and Rafael Furcal got rerouted and Garret Anderson rolled in, and just figuring out who stands where was a chore. But now the Braves have some idea what they have, and they like what they see.

And that means something after an offseason wherein Chipper Jones was ripping the only employer he has known. It means something for the Braves to have seen how good Lowe really is and whether Jeff Francoeur’s open stance would avail him. (He’s hitting .350 and has struck out once in 40 at-bats.) They needed affirmation. They’ve gotten a daily dose.

“We’ve really improved our team,” Cox said, and yes, this is the same Cox who left Lake Buena Vista believing the 2008 Braves could win the pennant. But those Braves had geared up for one final fling. This team has been tailored to get better as it goes.

Cox again: “We’ve got a lot of good young kids in camp. People are going to be really excited when they see them.” (And no, he won’t say if Tommy Hanson will make the 25-man roster.)

Granted, it would have been better had Jones not gone 0-for-10 at the World Baseball Classic and tweaked his oblique to boot, but Chipper, as we know, can tweak anything at any time. And the WBC-induced absences of Jones and Brian McCann gave other Braves a chance to get longer looks, and that’s never a bad thing.

There’s also this: “With the economy, it never hurts to win,” Cox said. “Maybe we’ll sell some tickets.”

Should they lose three straight in Philadelphia two weeks hence, any good Disney vibes will be gone. That said, you’d rather have had the Braves’ spring than, say, the Phillies’. (Questions about the health of Cole Hamels and Chase Utley, and a 50-game substance-related suspension for reliever J.C. Romero.)

And consider the spring endured by the Braves’ spring neighbors. The Houston Astros are 4-16-3 and went three weeks between victories. When the Braves and Expos shared a stadium in West Palm Beach, the team with the better exhibition record would claim something known as the Mayor’s Trophy. Said general manager Frank Wren, speaking last week: “I think we’ve clinched the Kissimmee Cup.”

He was kidding. There’s no such thing. But maybe there is such a thing as a meaningful exhibition season, and maybe this is it.

71 comments Add your comment

Football Ken

March 23rd, 2009
3:00 pm

Mark,

All this spring winning doesn’t mean a thing if we don’t compete this year. Speaking for REAL Braves fans, I don’t think we can stomach missing the playoffs again. I grew up with Murph, Horner and Bruce Benedict so these last 3 years have made me queasy. We were spolied by the 90’s and early part of this decade, but Wren and Cox better know, if the can’t “right the ship” this year, there is going to be a lot of booing at Turner field. Still got some concerns about Frenchy, heck, all of our outfeild for that matter. Kelly J stills scares me at second, his errors will cost us 3 games this year, I promise. I hope Kotchman has snapped out of trade depression. Pitching looks solid, except for the late innings bullpen staff. Playoffs or it’s time for some major changes.

Kenny Powers

March 23rd, 2009
3:08 pm

Maybe, just maybe

Mac

March 23rd, 2009
3:15 pm

Hope springs eternal in Braves fans … except, it seems, for Football Ken. May all your fears melt throughout a season of Braves goodness. Heck, this year, I’d turn cartwheels over a division title and a first-round exit. Well, provided the first round series was a hard-fought one.

Tomahawkin

March 23rd, 2009
3:15 pm

Agreed with Football Ken, Frenchy is on his last strike this year…

And until the braves can win against teams like philly on a consistant basis then I remain skepitical…

Bobby really needs to start employing a fundamental offense (A-B-C, Get em on, Get’em Over, Get em in) if this team has any shot of hanging with the Big Boys (Philly and New York)

Also our the team will live and die on how much offense the outfield corps supplies this year…This is the glaring weakness everyone in the league knows about, and if they are not getting the job done come July, I hope they go after Matt Holliday…

Mark Bradley

March 23rd, 2009
3:16 pm

I think the Braves will finish ahead of the Phillies in 2009. (Yes, I mean the regular season.) There, I’ve said it.

Tomahawkin

March 23rd, 2009
3:18 pm

Also I’m keeping a close eye on D. Lowe, He better inpress the hell outta me for the money he is gonna make in the contract he signed…

And I wouldn’t be suprised if T. Hanson gets called up in June, especially if he rolls through AAA and one of our starters gets injured, Which is bound to happen. Injuries are a part of the game…

Justin

March 23rd, 2009
3:19 pm

Football Ken, you sound like a real winner! “If my favorite team doesnt win, I wont like them anymore!” Seriously man, relax. KJ is actually a pretty solid defensive second-baseman. He had a couple of rough games (Philly comes to mind) last year, sure, but that was only his SECOND year ever playing second base! Give him a break! He has looked really good this spring.

Kotchman didn’t have “trade depression” as much as he had “crap, my mother is about to die” depression.

How can you say that the late innings bullpen staff doesnt look solid? Gonzo, Soriano, Moylan…all are ready to rock.

I am just about fed up with all of the Braves’ fans crying about everything the club does…

Mac

March 23rd, 2009
3:26 pm

Date and time noted, Mark. And, by the way, I agree.

BravesFanLostInOhio

March 23rd, 2009
3:34 pm

It’s not the W-L record that gives me hope, though it’s nice.
I find hope in a pitching staff that can find the strike zone.
I find hope in Frenchy’s new confidence
(even more than his new stance).
I find hope in the depth of our roster.
And, I find hope in the optimism of the players themselves.

Before spring training, I just hoped we didn’t suck. Now, I dare to dream a little bigger. And, isn’t that all fans really want out of the spring- hope to dream about the glorious days of summer to come, and to hear the names of our players called by the announcer the crisp October air?

Old Blue

March 23rd, 2009
3:34 pm

Looks as though the Braves really didn’t need Garrett Anderson. So far, everyone in the outfield looks promising. Also seems like Diaz doesn’t get the respect for what he has shown.

T-Bone

March 23rd, 2009
3:41 pm

Thoughts from T-Bone:
– I like KJ at 2nd, but I would rather trade for the Roberts kid from Baltimore. Speed kills.

– We still need a bigger bat at 1st.

– We need to trade for/find an heir apparent for Chipper.

– I love Freeman and Heyward. I look forward to seeing them as starters.

– I still covet Peavy.

– I think we win the East.

Mark Bradley

March 23rd, 2009
4:03 pm

I agree. It’s not the won-loss record that matters now. It’s the overall feeling.

chris from md

March 23rd, 2009
4:10 pm

Mark,

Last year someone from ESPN, I think it was Buster Olney, noted that teams who finish 10 games .500 or better in ST have gone on to win their division something like 80% of the time. Are you familiar with such a stat?

Chris from MD

Mark Bradley

March 23rd, 2009
4:12 pm

I’m not. The Phillies were 12-18 last spring, for what that’s worth, and they won the Series. The Rays were 18-8, and they won the AL.

Bell

March 23rd, 2009
4:17 pm

Depends on if Cox takes the best players or the ones out of options. I dont think Anderson and Glavine should be on our team. I think Schafer and Hanson should. But send them to AAA Gwinnett and call them up before we fall to far behind.

OutsideRobber

March 23rd, 2009
4:18 pm

Mark Bradley, a suggestion: Create a special ‘preditions’ column, pick the categories yourself, have some kind of prize in play, then allow the fandom to weigh in. That one person with the most accurate predictions wins the prize.

Okay, so much for the idea du jour. If I were the Braves’ manager, and given what I know about the spring to date and the play of the guys for the past few years, here’s where I would be leaning:

1) I’d lean toward trading Francoeur for a top prospect 3rd baseman. New batting stance, new attitude? Package Prado in the deal to get a top 3B prospect in return. OK, fine, but let’s move on and get something while the getting is good.

2) Promote Heyward to the starting RF post. Matter of time so why not take the plunge now? He’s better than Francoeur either NOW or soon enough into the near future and has a far bigger upside and far more youth on his side.

3) Keep Diaz and the Garret Anderson platoon. Let’s see how that works out before derailing it before it’s had its shot at production.

4) Promote Schafer as the starting CF. Keep Josh Anderson as the designated PR, PH, and backup CF. Tell Norton, happy trails in order to allow the roster moves for this to happen. Nort is a good guy but JA has more youth and upside to help win games plus provides valuable insurance in CF.

tara

March 23rd, 2009
4:27 pm

Kotchman is a big bat at 1st and hes one of the best defensively. You just have not given him a chance. Just wait. You will remove the idea that Kotchman is not the 1st baseman of the future in a month or two.

Mark Bradley

March 23rd, 2009
4:32 pm

You know, Robber, we do that with the Final Four Fiasco, and we did it in football last fall. People picked the total number of games the Falcons, Georgia and Tech would win, and come August I’m going to revisit that and give props to the winner.

scott

March 23rd, 2009
4:32 pm

If the Braves compete for the NL East into August I’d be thrilled. I sure hated the feeling of not even CARING about the Braves games last August. Hope springs eternal! May Chipper play at least 140 games and may Glavine obtain all his incentive bonuses for innings pitched (has Chipper EVER played 140 games in a season?)

PJ

March 23rd, 2009
4:41 pm

Carolina Gent

March 23rd, 2009
5:12 pm

Mark,
I could be way off in my thinking I (it certainly wouldn’t be the forst time) and goodness knows I hope you’re right, but didn’t you have a similar rosy prediction last year that didn’t pan out so well?

Mark Bradley

March 23rd, 2009
5:14 pm

I did. Thanks for reminding me.

RocDoc

March 23rd, 2009
5:36 pm

I’d have to agree with tara that Kotchman is going to be one of our big bats and is defensively better. We need to keep him for sure. Frenchy has also been a surprise to me this spring and I can only hope that he will carry his spring hitting into the regular season. As far as Chipper playing in at least 140 games, you have to be kidding. He will probably only plan in 120 games (I can only hope).

The question mark I have is with our new Japanese Pitcher. he did good in the previously pitched games but his history is that he does better when he is on a 6-starter pitching schedule. I have this feeling he is going to have a lot of down time due to a tired pitching arm. With the questions with Glavine (which I would love to see succeed this year) and KK, has anyone thought of having Hanson as part of a 6-Started Pitching staff? Don’t know if it is possible.

But as far as the upcoming Braves Season, I am especially excited about it. I like the results of the young players on the team, Diaz has really impressed me (which I agree he is always underrated by many of the media and some bloggers) and I see players like Kotchman, Frenchy, McCann and Chipper being our big bats that everyone thinks we need. Personally, I think the Brave play alot better when they play ABC Baseball. They always have. Big Bats in the past have never guaranteed the Braves that they will make playoffs. but we do need a left hander in the bullpen. maybe Jo Jo will fit this spot. He has looked good this Spring. My bet is that Braves will be in Post Season.

Always a Braves Fan (Win or Lose).

Carolina Gent

March 23rd, 2009
5:39 pm

Well, hope springs eternal. Let’s hope the team gives us all cause for optimism as the season progresses. THanks for the positive thoughts, though. Always enjoy reading your thoughts!

Mark Bradley

March 23rd, 2009
5:40 pm

I think there’s potential here. Is it enough to win the NL East? I’m not ready to go that far just yet, but I can’t imagine the Braves won’t have a winning season.

Mark Windsor

March 23rd, 2009
5:59 pm

I think winning in Florida is good but more exciting is the compotition for certain jobs middle releif,Center field Back up catcher and thats what has made this spring so special the guys have all performed well.I think we will be good with our solid starting pitching and perhaps we have deft in our bull pen. We have a lot of good spray the ball playersthat play very good defense and hit for good averages.I beleive at least 5 could hit 300 on this team this season. We lack power but maybe we could learn to make little things count and not live on the 3 run homer.

Alan

March 23rd, 2009
7:44 pm

Mark,
I’m very happy with what the Braves are doing this spring, but it really means nothing. I like the moves they made this offseason, particularly in rebuilding the starting rotation, and I’m cautiously optimistic about this season. However, the NL East is a tough division. I believe the reigning world champions have to be considered the favorite, but they’re hardly invincible. Every other team in the division — except the Nationals — is a legitimate contender. It should be an interesting year.

Buckind'ville

March 23rd, 2009
7:47 pm

We lost 90 games last year because we lost our top 3 starters. I’m not sure what kind of record could have been expected given those circumstances. We had a better line-up for a while, but we weren’t going to hit our way out of that. It’s as simple as that.

I like the starting staff we’ve assembled this year, and I like the arms in the ‘pen (we could always use another lefthander) I like seeing guys like JoJo Reyes, and Buddy Carlisle, and Jeff Bennent, looking sharp and making Bobby’s job more difficult. I like seeing Diaz knocking the cover off the ball, and Francoeur not striking out. I like seeing Anderson and Schaefer hustling for a job.

who really knows how any of this will work out, but I think Frank Wren addressed the most serious problem with this club by upgrading the starting staff. There are problems with the middle-infield defense, and power seems kind of sketchy…

But, I like what I’m seeing

Greg

March 23rd, 2009
8:01 pm

Hey Mark…it’s Francoeur’s CLOSED stance, not his open stance, that we’ll see whether it will “avail him.”

rainman

March 23rd, 2009
8:49 pm

Do teams ever carry 5 outfielders for long during the regular season. I would like to keep JAnderson and Shafer plus GAnderson and Diaz, and of course, Frenchy in right. Thats not even considering Blanco or Branden Jones.

Jim Watson

March 23rd, 2009
9:00 pm

Don’t discount this Spring’s record. Check back to 1982. Manager Joe Torre said the team had a loser’s mentality and he was going to change it. Went all out in Spring playing to win and had best record in baseball that Spring. If memory serves me correctly they opened the season with 19 straight wins and won division for first time since ‘69.

Spahn – the greatest left handed pitcher of all time!!!

marseilles mutt

March 23rd, 2009
9:03 pm

Get outta here all you naysayers! Darn right spring training means something this year! The attitude is entirely different when there is this little item called ‘COMPETITION’! Competition, for starters, closers, outfield, and playing time in the infield and behind the plate as well. Real roster competition.

Having said all that, I am convinced that the most exciting competition is located some 60 odd feet from home plate with almost an entire pitching staff, each seemingly trying to outpitch the other. Harkens back to the days when the ‘Fab Four’ were youngsters.

Most importantly the’good’ chemistry appears to be there this year and having a manager that can make ‘chicken salad’ out of ‘chickenfeathers’ doesn’t hurt too much either.

Even the writers appear fired up; “Rainbow in a sump pump” ain’t too shabby either! Gotta love it!

Let’s play ball.

CharlieAlphaBravo

March 23rd, 2009
9:32 pm

First, you hex my Dawgs in ‘08, now my Bravos in ‘09…

Well, you’ve done it again Bradley… You’ve ruined Christmas.

Ken Stallings

March 23rd, 2009
9:32 pm

Success in spring training has to be looked at very carefully to see if it portends well. It matters who the hits came against and what part of spring training it took place. It matters who was pitching when runs were surrendered and when in spring it happened.

Early on, the starters and roster relievers often work on their weaker pitches, trying to refine them for use in the regular season. Often they leave these third and fourth pitches fat and hitters feast on them.

The converse is true when evaluating your hitters.

The other fact is that if most of the wins were of the comeback variety, then one must see if the runs were scored in bunches against marginal pitchers battling for a final roster spot.

It takes someone watching all the games having an in-depth knowledge of who the personnel are on both teams to know how much the spring wins mean.

Mark Bradley

March 23rd, 2009
9:36 pm

Greg, when I saw Francoeur’s stance, it was open.

MightyQuinn

March 23rd, 2009
10:30 pm

I had already been thinking about Torre in’82 myself, though I believe it was 13 straight to start the season. I was there for game 14 that year! I too am cautiously optimistic, still a lot of “ifs”: Frenchy and Kotchmans bats bouncing back, Chipper’s body parts not falling off, KJ continuing to improve around second, left field, center field…..OK I’m not feeling as optimistic! But still hopeful.

Mark Bradley

March 23rd, 2009
10:43 pm

Something else to consider: New faces make for a new dynamic, and with Lowe and Kawakami and G. Anderson and Vazquez and Hanson (surely by summer!) and Kotchman for a whole season, these aren’t going to be the Braves we remember.

alex

March 23rd, 2009
11:03 pm

The Braves will win the wild card with the help of the kids coming up we have so much talent.

siskel_god

March 23rd, 2009
11:32 pm

I hate the fact that the Braves are still depending on a guy who’s gonna miss 40+ games a year as there big bat in the lineup. But I do love the pitching and the young guys, need to hold off on Chippers extension, maybe he’ll be motivated to play this year even if he’s not 100%. Funny how guys try a little harder when there is money on the table, maybe Chipper’s last year anyway he just can’t stay on the field and doesn’t really seem to be somebody who takes good care of his body.

jc_dawgs

March 24th, 2009
4:50 am

Spring training records don’t mean a thing. But I do see a lot of potential. If the Braves can stay within 5 or 6 games of the lead into early August…we might have a chance. Especially with a Lowe, Jurjjens, Vasques, Hanson and Hudson(if he comes back) rotation.

TheAntiMe

March 24th, 2009
7:41 am

This season is going to be a fun one for the Bravos. One major difference this season as opposed to 2008 is that if someone gets hurt this year there is more depth, especially in pitching and in the outfield than there was in 2008.

As good as I think this season can be for the Braves, it is really going to start getting fun again by 2010. Look for Jordan Schafer and Tommy Hanson to be on the Atlanta roster by the All-Star break and then look for Jason Heyward to join them by the All-Star break in 2010. Happy days are here again Braves fans or, at least, they should be here very soon!

TheAntiMe

March 24th, 2009
8:04 am

I agree with you, tara, that Casey Kotchman will do a fine job at 1B for the Braves. I’m not sure, however, that he will be their 1B of the future. I say this only because Freddie Freeman looks like a real player. Not only has he played well this spring, but he put up some really good numbers at Rome in 2008 (.316/ 18 HRs/ 95 RBI). I look for Freeman to take over at 1B by the 2011 season.

The good news is that I can think of only a handful of players that I would rather see playing 1B for the Bravos other than Casey Kotchman until Freddie Freeman is hopefully ready to be the man.

whos.on.first

March 24th, 2009
8:35 am

Yes . . . CJ will miss a few games, but Prado would probably start for most other teams . . . not a lot of fall-off there.

whos.on.first

March 24th, 2009
8:38 am

and I don’t think Tommy Hanson’s gonna change his name to Shirley by summer. (sorry . . . too easy)

Gator73082

March 24th, 2009
8:40 am

I have to say that this has been the most exciting Spring Training that I’ve kept track with as far as I can remember. It has been exciting watching all those kids showcasing their talents, along with our new arms. It has been very impressive in terms of talent and I am very optimistic about our future going into the next decade. Perhaps we could start another run….

Mark Windsor

March 24th, 2009
8:43 am

Im Sorry I have to BLOG again but I will not stand here and read bloggers who in anyway show direspect for chipper jones ..Sometimes some of us(I have cancer) arent given the perfect body.Two Chipper Jones plays hard..He is the greatest Braves position player since Aaron and has gone out of his way toadjust his salary requuirements to help the Braves afford other players.I will say right now he is a true lover of the game and put 110% everydayI want live to see but I hope in the interest of true braves fans Chipper Jones retires as a player with the Braves and remains there for the team in some way..It has been great watching him play all these years, Heyward and Freeman remind me of those easrly 90s when the Braves were bringing Chipper and Klesko along..I will be watching from above! Amen! Go Braves in 09!

Blindog

March 24th, 2009
9:09 am

I still say Chipper will have a great year because it’s his contract year.There is something great about to happen here with all this young talent and I for one can’t wait for the season to start.

Larry

March 24th, 2009
9:51 am

In the end it never matters. Even should everything fall perfectly in place, we are still limited in the postseason by have the worst post season manager in baseball history sitting there mining his right nostril with his left thumb, barking out silly little nick names to grown men, and whose rear grows wider and wider every year. Cox in 1-14 in the last game (series) of the postseason and only because Tom Galvin pitched a one hitter in the 1995 World Series does he not sport a perfect 0-15 record.

This is why people don’t go to the ballgames any more or even get excited; they know that waiting for them should they are fortunate to get there is the absolute worst in-game, strategic manager who hasn’t a clue how to make things happen and whose postseason decision disasters are legendary,

TheAntiMe

March 24th, 2009
10:09 am

lol – Yeah, that Tom Galvin pitched a fine game in the ‘95 series. What ever happened to that dude anyway? :P Earth to all of you Bobby Cox haters out there. There isn’t a baseball team anywhere on this planet that wouldn’t be thrilled to have Bobby Cox as their manager this season.

Mark Bradley

March 24th, 2009
11:52 am

Who’s On First, you need to say hello to Ted Striker.