Here’s where I say something and you tell me how smart I am. (Or, as is more often the case, how smart I’m not.) I’m saying the Braves will win 89 games and claim the National League’s wild card. I’m saying they’ll finish second to the Mets. In sum, I’m saying better days are at hand.
I know, I know. I thought the same last spring and was in egregious error. But last spring I’d bought into the Braves’ message of hope. This time I’m operating on something closer to faith.
I’m not banking on 40-year-old pitchers to call back the years. I’m banking on Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez to do what they always do. I’m banking on Jordan Schafer and Tommy Hanson to provide the sort of lift that went missing in 2008. I’m banking on Jeff Francoeur to hit .285.
I’m banking on the bullpen to be quite good. I’m banking on Kelly Johnson’s second-half surge to have been more than a mirage. I’m banking on Yunel Escobar showing he can keep his head and play to his gifts. I’m banking on Casey Kotchman to be better than we Atlantans have yet seen.
I’m banking on Kenshin Kawakami to win a dozen games. I’m banking on Chipper Jones to get hurt no more than twice, neither time seriously. I’m banking on Brian McCann to win the MVP.
I know, I know. These haven’t been the best of times for anybody doing any sort of banking, but I like what Frank Wren did over the winter and I like the way his team has performed in the spring. I sense a new spirit around these Braves, a keener edge.
Almost all the old faces are gone. Tom Glavine isn’t seen as anything more than a seat-warmer for Hanson, whereas last season he was regarded as a heart-of-the-rotation guy. And if you have to build your batting order around an older guy, it helps to know that guy just won a batting title. And the best news of all: Mike Hampton is someone else’s concern. Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
I like the Braves to win 89 and the wild card — yes, it took 90 victories to do the deed each of the past two seasons, but 89 was the required number in 2005 and 2006 — because I see the Phillies as primed for a plunge. I don’t see that rotation holding up. The Mets are another matter. The Mets are going to be really good. (K-Rod and Putz in the ‘pen, no more Willie Randolph in the dugout, no more icky Shea Stadium).
But the belief here is that the Braves will themselves be stout enough to play into October. Stout enough to win the Series? Probably not. But once you get there … it’s a crapshoot, right?
I’m guessing y’all have some beliefs of your own, and I’d be obliged if you’d share them. And come October I’ll look back on this little post and see who knew what way back when. Deal?