Bradley’s Buzz: Optimism abounds around the Braves!

Billy Wagner: He's not a new closer, but he's the new Braves closer. (AP photo)

Billy Wagner: He's not exactly a new closer, but he's the new Braves closer. (AP photo)

They’re the feel-good team of the Grapefruit League. They’re the Atlanta Braves, and everywhere you turn someone else is gushing about them.

Buster Olney of ESPN.com picks them to finish second in the National League East and to win the wild card. (Link requires registration.) Writes Olney: “The Braves look tremendous this spring. Jason Heyward looks great; Tim Hudson looks great. ‘The two best teams I saw this spring — the two teams that looked the most crisp — were the Braves and Rays,’ one evaluator said.”

And here’s Albert Chen of SI.com giving his reasons why the Braves can finish ahead of Philadelphia:

The Braves can overtake Philly if 23-year-old starter Tommy Hanson establishes himself as one of the league’s elite pitchers; if outfielder Jason Heyward has the kind of rookie year Albert Pujols had in 2001; if the old guys (Troy Glaus, Chipper Jones and Billy Wagner ) stay healthy and have solid years. That’s a lot of ifs, of course, but as GM Frank Wren says, the Braves are “without a doubt improved” a year after winning 86 games, a season in which Chipper Jones and Derek Lowe had their worst years since 2004.

Over its final 88 games, Atlanta posted the best run differential in the majors. Entering the season, the Braves are still the second-best team in the division, but with a few breaks, they may very well find themselves atop the division come September. “The division as a whole is better,” says Wren. “I expect the Mets to be healthier and therefore improved. Florida was able to keep the players it needed to and their starting pitching has a chance to be very good. And Washington has the players there to build around. This is a tougher division, but I like our chances.”

Chen on Tim Hudson:

The 34-year-old has looked sharp this spring (”He looks like he’s almost all the way back,” says a scout) thanks in part to an improved splitfinger fastball and changeup — two pitches that he’s now been able to throw consistently for the first time in several seasons. “It’s been eight or nine years since my shoulder’s felt this good,” he says. “That allows me to get into the arm slot that I haven’t been able to get into the last few years.” A comeback season from Hudson — who slots in the rotation behind Hanson, [Jair] Jurrjens, and Derek Lowe — could give the Braves the deepest rotation in the division.

Chen on Glaus:

If Glaus stays healthy, he has 25-home run potential and would be huge for a club whose biggest question mark is scoring runs. “He’s in great shape,” says Wren. “Our scouts were telling us that if he was healthy and his shoulder was back, he could help our club and the middle of the lineup. What we’ve seen so far is that he’s healthy. Seeing him make the plays at first — the off balance throws and awkward throws — he hasn’t hesitated with anything, and that tells me that his shoulder is fine.”

Gee whiz. Faced with all this optimism, I’m almost sorry I picked the Braves to finish third behind Florida and Philadelphia. Almost.

103 comments Add your comment

MatthewH

March 29th, 2010
8:56 am

Remember when first got you a guest column? Did I ruin it for everyone?

MatthewH

March 29th, 2010
8:58 am

Also, fans of the AL East or AL Central might not like to hear this, but I think the NL East is the most competitive division.

Larvell "SugarBear" Blanks

March 29th, 2010
9:06 am

Any chance I can get my old SS position back with the Braves Mark?

Jordan's Almonds

March 29th, 2010
9:10 am

Ted M

March 29th, 2010
9:11 am

Yep, Mark I’m looking forward to the Braves season this year too. But I’m ranked 478 in your bracket…how bout you?

T.O

March 29th, 2010
9:11 am

The only issue I see is the older guys breaking down. Chipper will be in and out of the lineup all season. He probably plays 90-100 games. I think if we get 100 games out of Glaus we’ll be lucky so for 1/3 of the season you’re going to have Hinkse and Infante as everyday starters. I don’t think that’s the worst thing that could happen but I do think you can’t win a division with your better players being hurt. Also I hope Bobby doesn’t over work Wagner in the early season. He has a tendacy to do that. If we do plan on making a late run for postseason we’ll need Wagner as fresh as possible.

Mark Bradley

March 29th, 2010
9:15 am

I’m about 5,000th, I think.

PMC

March 29th, 2010
9:17 am

Lets just keep this optimism all year and have some confidence then instead of falling off the wagon when they have a flat first half of the year like they always do.

They are going to struggle with injuries more than likely. The difference with this team is the Bench. This is going to be a scrappier team than the first 3/4’s of last season. I think they will be more capable of winning the close games than they were last year. I still think 89 is a good number but I’d love to see them win 90 plus and have a go at the division.

Ted M

March 29th, 2010
9:17 am

Maybe next year and stick to your Kansas theory.

Don

March 29th, 2010
9:18 am

How can optimism abount when Bobby Cox is still the manager? Our pitching should be geeod but not great enough (as it once was) to overcome his management procedures and lack thereof.

BravesFan79

March 29th, 2010
9:20 am

Im glad you picked the Braves to finish 3rd, you picked GT to beat OSU (which they should of!)
Therefore you picking against Atl teams seems to be goodluck! Please pick against the Braves all season so we can make it to the World Series again! ; )

Mark Bradley

March 29th, 2010
9:22 am

I didn’t pick Georgia Tech to beat Ohio State. I thought Tech had a good chance, but I picked Ohio State to win that game before the tournament started.

Mark Bradley: Genius

March 29th, 2010
9:22 am

It almost makes us wish you would have done more than 3 seconds of research to make that prediction. Almost.

BravesFanLostInOhio

March 29th, 2010
9:23 am

Yes, optimism abounds! And, I’m right there, too.

But, no one is talking about Florida, and there is every reason to believe they are going to be tough, too!

Still, I’m sticking to my guns, and I’m picking the Braves to win the division.

Kashi

March 29th, 2010
9:27 am

I am already in happy mood about our team, Go Braves. Can’t wait taking over Phillies and see them chasing us all season. I haven’t been this excited about our team for last three years. Where is my broom to take turner field?

Don

March 29th, 2010
9:30 am

Relating to the eight position player spots, there are questions everywhere except for cantcher and shortstop.
What will be the results? My guesses are:
(1) At 3rd base, Chipper will rebound in his hitting at least to significant degree, but (as always) he will not be a good defensively and will again miss several games.
(2) At second base, Prado will ideed prove that he can be a productive evryday player for the entire season.
(3) At one corner outfield spot, Heywood will have the maturity to adjust to major league pitching and have a productive year – if he will forget trying for the long ball and just try to make solid contact – if Bobby and Pendleton will leave him alone.
(4) At the other corner outfield postion, Diaz will prove that he can be a productive basically full time player – if given the opportunity.
BUT:
(5) Glaus will have a very low BA and OBA and his HR and RBI production will also be disappointing.
(6) We will not have an adequate Center Fielder unless Schafer should devleop in the minors and come up and be productive. Our Center Fielder is a .250s hitter – has hit in the 250s or below in every season in his career except one — and although Melk has a slightly better career BA, has a far worse OBA and not as much power.

bvillebaron

March 29th, 2010
9:33 am

Hey Mark, who is this guy Albert Chen talking about how great Hudson has looked this spring? How can that possibly be? I thought you told me all winter that Wren was stupid to trade the Braves “best” pitcher Javier “Career Year” Vazquez and keep Tim Hudson?

collegeballfan

March 29th, 2010
9:36 am

In March every team has a shot. In August the cream rises to the top.
In September it can be “choke city” if you are not careful.

162 games is a long, long season. It is the wear and tear in tiny, tiny increments that wear down the “old guys” and the “back from injury” guys. This is the concern with the Braves.

But hey, its March! I pick the Braves to take it all!

ugaaccountant

March 29th, 2010
9:38 am

There’s still time to change your prediction. It just doesn’t make sense to have us 3rd. If nothing else, just let Heyward change your mind on that one.

KimZ's Package

March 29th, 2010
9:40 am

Guys I am playing with the other team for a second (to get some more pub for my show) , but if any of you Rich Baseball Players are interested I am like a swingdoor.
I hope Chipper can play enough to make a positive effect on the season. I hope we someone get on base regularly and be able to get some stolen bases.

McCann Fan

March 29th, 2010
9:40 am

The only real issue with this team is the same one every team in the league has, and that’s health. If the Braves stay healthy this year there is no reason they will not win over 90 games. Someone pointed it out above, but our bench is very solid. That being the case, if we lose someone there are solid backups there to step right in. There are plenty of teams that would have Melky, Infante, and Hinske in their everyday lineups and they are on our bench. That’s a great thing to have.

And as for the pitching staff, damn we are stacked. Two guys coming off surgery look very good right now. If their health holds up the sky’s the limit!

Not to mention we have Heyward – ROY!

KME

March 29th, 2010
9:43 am

Don…you are first…Don’t give the Braves so much pessimism. Hey, you have no idea how the outcome of this season could be…none whatsoever. Just like the 2010 NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament is shaping up….many upsets…and it gives those “unlikely” teams a time to shine…many of them did!
Billy Wagner…yes, up in age…but he really has the chance to help the Braves with consistency, form, velocity. We need a good closer we can count on for crucial games…that is for sure.
Jason Heyward…plenty of time to mature. He is still going to need nurturing…not to try too hard…to be consistent with help from his “elders” (ie. Chipper, Tom, Pendle…even Wren and Bobby). I even think we could be looking at another Andrew Jones here!
Glaus looks good…hopefully he will be a good edition to the infield.
Hudson: rebounding from surgery…hope his change-up/splitfinger will be awesome…
Tommy G: Hall-of-Famer…glad he is on OUR side! Good reference for pitchers…excellent moral booster.
Hey…overall…I think we have a decent outlook for this year…AS LONG…as everyone stays healthy!

Pi$$onaDAWG

March 29th, 2010
9:44 am

In our great economy and the cost of players, I wish they would drop the season to 130 games and be done by the first week in October. College Football is getting good and Baseball should be done.

Richard Nieh

March 29th, 2010
9:48 am

Tim Hudson will have a career year in 2010 but he will still not be the best pitcher in the Braves rotation. Hanson will win CY.

Trey

March 29th, 2010
9:48 am

The phillies will have issues this year. Braves win the division with 98 wins to 92 for the phillies.

ChippersLoveChild

March 29th, 2010
9:49 am

See the problem with your idea DAWG, is that the rest of the country doesn’t care about college football. So while that might make great sense to you, since you live in the South, the rest of the country would be in an uproar, but I’m sure a billion dollar industry like Major League Baseball will take that into consideration so you can watch your Dawgs.

ChippersLoveChild

March 29th, 2010
9:52 am

I think the Braves could finish anywhere from 1st to 3rd this season, but for those screaming it doesn’t make any sense for Mark to put them third, why not? That is where they finished last season. The bullpen is not as strong at the back end as it was last year, Heyward could have a monster year, but the only two rookies in recent memory that I recall having monster years are named Pujols and Braun, that’s pretty elite company for J-Hey, so we shall see. Chipper and Glaus, who knows what we will get from them? I like the Braves, but I’m certainly not as sold as everyone else seems to be on this team yet.

All I'm Saying Is...

March 29th, 2010
9:54 am

To start with, hope springs eternal in the Spring as even Cub fans think they have a chance in March.

Next, better to bet on veterans like Chipper, Wagner, Diaz, Cabrera (who has a ring by the way), Glaus (think he does too) et. al. to put together a solid season than to over-rely on youth and I think the Braves have a great combination of older guys and young talent/fresh faces (Prado, Escobar, Heyward, and I’d put McCann in this group too).

All we need is a 2010 performance from our pitching similar to 2009 and the same ball smacking that we had the second half of 2009 in 2010 and the wild card is ours.

Odds are against a three-peat by the Phillies and too many moons have to align for the Mets. I’d say the Marlins are going to be our toughest test to potentially take the division.

(Don: His last name is Heyward not Heywood…maybe if he has a solid season, you’ll get his name right)

(And you Wren haters out there might have to eat your hats if his moves pay-off in the regular season the way they have thus far in spring training).

LET’S GO BRAVES!

Realistic Optimist

March 29th, 2010
9:55 am

Jeff Francoeur has a better chance for a SUCCESSFUL future in Atlanta than the left-wing-embracing, Thrashers-hating, Jeff-Schultz-employing AJC.

F-105 Thunderchief

March 29th, 2010
9:56 am

Personally, I’m glad you picked them third. That whole “Hope springs eternal,” thing had to be written about baseball.

optomist

March 29th, 2010
10:03 am

Gee KME I hope you meant Andruw Jones at the beginning of his career. I think Jayson Heywood and tommy Hanson are two of the most exciting young players today.

THE BEAR Illegitimi non carborundum

March 29th, 2010
10:05 am

Don, I will give you credit for one thing, consistency. Every time I see your name I know I will read another diatribe of utterly negative BS.

What I don’t understand is why you even bother to follow the Braves. Why don’t you latch onto the Nats, Marlins or Rays? Surely you can find something to bltch about with them.

ET

March 29th, 2010
10:06 am

As soon as Wren made the trade with the evil empire and signed Glaus, I told everybody that would listen that the Braves would make the playoffs. I can’t repeat what I was called here for fear of a life time ban, but I think more fans and pundents are agreeing with me now. Funny thing is, come September it will be them telling everybody that they were the ones who made those prognostications in the off season. I will nod my head as if to say I remember, but know in my hardened angry conservative heart that I’m the Nostradamus of Braves Baseball… Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Sporty Black

March 29th, 2010
10:08 am

When the Braves traded Murphy, they made room for studs like Justice to come in an make a name for himself while elevating the team to 1st place (for years). The same need to be done with Chipper. It’s time to turn the page. While I love the vets, younger players are hungrier and will not sit back on their body of work.

THE BEAR Illegitimi non carborundum

March 29th, 2010
10:11 am

Sporty Black, you need to check up on baseball rules. As a veteran with ten years in the majors and five years with the same team Chipper CANNOT be traded without his consent and why should he give that with a home in Atlanta and all his friends here so to speak?

Chipper will spend his entire career as a Brave. You can count on that.

Cecil34

March 29th, 2010
10:27 am

Back when there were no divisions in baseball and the top National league and top American league team went straight to the World Series, it made sense to play 146, 154 or 162 game regular seasons.

This way MLB ensured that the two best teams were in the series. No flukes.

But when MLB went to 2 divisions in each league in 1969, Bowie Kuhn should have knocked the regular season back down to at least 152 games to handle the increased playoff days.

Then MLB went to 3 divisions and more playoffs and wildcards, and dog and ponies, and low and behold, due to the idiot aka Bud Selig the World Series is being played in November.

November!

Now, because they want to play in prime time, baseball is being played in 40 degree weather, with snow being a real possibility in northern cities. And the NFL and college football in full swing. Bullsh!t.

That ain’t baseball. And all the players now wear their uniforms like pajamas…look like sh!t.

Selig has done more harm to this game than good.

Don

March 29th, 2010
10:31 am

KME, I was optomistic about every postion except Glaus at first and Center Field – and of course Bobby Cox’s management.
But, your one statement about hoping that Heyward can be another Andruw — I sure hope not — Andruw was one of the most wasted offensive talents in baseball history – Withe proper development could have been one of the greatest all time offensive stares – The way he overswung and started his bat hard instead of accelerating, it was amazing that he could even make contact – only his great natural talent made this possible – but he was not productive against good pitching or in key situations.

matt r

March 29th, 2010
10:32 am

For the 3rd or 4th year in a row, the Braves lead the MLB in ‘ifs’. I am happy that at least we are in a place where we hit all our ‘ifs’ and we make a run. But odds are we won’t.

Dawglasville

March 29th, 2010
10:32 am

It is just great to enjoy the optimism that comes with every spring.

Big B CH 99

March 29th, 2010
10:34 am

The biggest problem right now is the Braves don’t have a leadoff hitter. McLouth is not a natural leadoff guy, even if he wasn’t struggling. Add in the fact that he can’t get a hit to save his soul right now, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Mutley

March 29th, 2010
10:35 am

Bullpen is going to be the killer this year. Wagner’s best years are long over and there is really no one to step into the closer’s role.

Dice

March 29th, 2010
10:40 am

I got excited about the title and then I read the last line of the paper. You ruined this for me. Why are you so negative? I said to myself I would never read you again and then I had hope with the title of the article and the other 99% of it. The stupid last line is what you always do. Why can’t you have some faith in this team!?

Fed Up With Wren (Again)

March 29th, 2010
10:44 am

While I certainly hope that all the optimism is well founded, I see too many holes and injury risks to think the Braves make the playoffs this year.

Herschel Talker

March 29th, 2010
10:45 am

MB:

I am quite optimistic about this roster that Frank “Epic Fail” Wreck has put together. The age of the bullpen concerns me. Saito and Wagner are almost 80 yrs old combined. That is worrisome. That and Booby’s propensity to pitch Moylan every day. Moylan’s arm may fall off this year. And, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Booby’s propensity to blow every game with his moronic game management. If he plays for the 3 run HR every game this year, it’s going to be a long year. This roster is meant for small ball, but Booby, as usual, won’t adjust and will be waiting for 3 run bombs from McCann, Heyward, and Glaus, a strategy I suspect will produce an “epic fail.”

HT

Nick Esasky

March 29th, 2010
10:57 am

If Troy gets hurt or doesn’t produce, I’ll be ready. My vertigo is much better now.

Mitchell

March 29th, 2010
10:58 am

Well, should they finish third again this year it’ll be because of Bobby Cox just like it was becuase of Bobby Cox last year that we didn’t make the playoffs because he’s in my mind one of the worst managers working in baseball today.

Face it, we were a playoff team last year with Garrett Anderson, Kelly Johnson and Greg Norton in tow. Bobby Cox, with his way of taking Derek Lowe out of his opening night start last year in favor of an unprepared Mike Gonzalez, set the tone for a season of missed opportunities. Okay, so Gonzo got the save that night but not without getting into considerable trouble. You think Bobby would have learned from that so that Tommy Hanson wouldn’t have to endure his 8 innings of shutout baseball against the Astros being erased in the blink of Rafael Soriano’s lazy eye, but… no.

The only thing stopping us from not winning this division is the guy that will supposedly have “teams across the majors… lin[ing] up to pay tribute on his final visit”. Yeah, because they’re going to miss being assured of beating him in the playoffs every year.

This is going to be a tough. I’m loving the Braves in 2010. You might even say I’m McLovin’. I’m drinking the Kool-Aid like nobody’s bidness. I’m all in and yet there’s still Bobby Cox who makes me want to bail on this team like they bailed on trying to win at least one of their remaining six games of the 2009 season. You’d think a Hall of Fame manager wouldn’t allow that to happen but it did happen.

That certainly would give me every reason to pick the Braves to finish no higher than third this year, or fourth as I predicted after the end of last season. But Bobby Cox aside, that can’t and won’t happen. Simply put the Braves are a better team than the Phillies. The Phillies have arguably more talent and more weapons but I don’t believe they have what it takes to win the most games in the East.

Pitching, if I’m not mistaken, still wins championships and the Braves arguably have the best pitching staff in all of baseball from starters to closers. We have a rookie who’s been compared to Hall of Fame sluggers and even if he, Glaus, Chipper and McCann don’t set new records for offensive output we finally have guys who can win a game with one swing of the bat. That’s really what this team has been missing most over the last four years. The clutch hits are coming this year. I believe what will define them is never feeling like they are out any game. I think they’re going to make 9th inning magic a habit. That’s what will make the difference. Am I making myself redundant yet?

There really aren’t that many “if’s” and question marks as people think. It is not going to take a Herculean task to beat the Phillies. The Marlins and Nationals on the other hand? Perhaps.

The 2010 Braves to me are a World Series caliber team. If that doesn’t happen, and studies have shown that it probably won’t, the season can still be considered a success if they win yet another division title. In a way, it might mean more.

In closing, John Schuerholz doesn’t hang Wild Card banners at Turner Field.

The end.

Don

March 29th, 2010
11:06 am

Hershel Talker, you are completly right about Booby Cox. To say nothing of his complete failure to understand the necessity and multiple advantages of teaching, emphasizing, demanding that hitters work the count, be selective, make the opposing pitcher throw some pitches in order to see what he has, adjust to his pitches, get better pitches to hit, make him make mistakes, wear him down both within innings and for the game etc. Our pitching should be good but not great enough (as it once was) to overcome Cox’s incomeptence and management procedures and lack thereof.

Don

March 29th, 2010
11:18 am

Nastradamus (ET), I would agree with you that the Braves would have a good shot at the Division if everything went right — EXCEPT for the fact that Bobby Cox is still the manager – and that means that with his management procedures and lack thereof, we would have to be at least 10 games better than the other teams in order to be competitive. Our pitching should be very good but not great enough (as it once was) to overcome his incompetence.

Fed Up With Fed Up With Wren (Again)

March 29th, 2010
11:26 am

I’m with you Sporty Black, except that Chipper’s “body of work” is not what he sits on so often. It’s his butt, when he has those strains and pulls in his (take your pick): hamstrings, oblique, wrist, bicep, quad, etc, etc.

Mike Mc.

March 29th, 2010
11:34 am

Will people actually show up to the Ted this year? Last year was my first game I didn’t attend b/c I was hiking the Appalachian Trail. It was the first non-braves game year for me since I was 8! Now I’ve moved to STL and I’ve already purchased my Braves/Cards tix in STL, plus the braves play two series in Chicago. It’s going to be a Braves summer all over the midwest for me. I just need to make it home to see them at the TED. I’m predicting a Wild Card, but the Marlins do pretty well as a Wild Card.