It’s a Braves’ new world, but they’ll again be dealt a wild card

OK, so there's one thing that hasn't changed. We call him Chipper. (AP photo)

OK, so there's one thing about the Braves that hasn't changed. We call him Chipper. (AP photo)

The Braves are about to play games that count, and somehow the whole thing seems a bit off. Opening Day isn’t on Monday but on Thursday, and it isn’t even in April. The Braves will play seven games elsewhere before they get around to playing a real game here. And that’s just the logistical stuff. Other oddities:

Somebody else is going to be managing this club. This isn’t breaking news. We had a year to prepare for Bobby Cox’s retirement and an offseason to get ready for Fredi Gonzalez. That said: When the Braves play Thursday in Washington, D.C., it will mark the first time they’ll work for someone other than No. 6 since June 23, 1990. Know how long ago that was? The No. 1 album was “Step by Step” by New Kids on the Block. The No. 1 download on iTunes was … well, nothing. iTunes didn’t exist.

The Braves will be under new management in more ways than one. Fredi G. won’t be as much like Bobby C. as you might think. He worked under him, yes, but he’s a different guy. He’s going to work his players harder than Cox did. And, for as much as Cox meant to the Braves, the changes in managerial attitude will not be entirely unwelcome.

In a stunning development, the Braves might actually have a first baseman. Remember Rico Brogna? Robert Fick? Scott Thorman? Each was handed first base; none lasted a full season. Since Andres Galarraga was diagnosed with cancer in 1999, the only real stability at first base was offered by Adam LaRoche, and here we use the word “stability” advisedly. (LaRoche is famous for blowing hot and cold.) When in doubt, which was often, the Braves would turn to Julio Franco, and he would become the last active big-leaguer born in the ’50s. The Braves now have Freddie Freeman, born in 1989. He could hold the position for the next decade.

Despite drafting a lefthander considered almost big-league-ready with their No. 1 pick in 2009, the Braves still don’t have a lefty in their rotation. The Braves were criticized, most notably by Keith Law of ESPN, for taking Mike Minor of Vanderbilt with the seventh overall pick. Law’s contention was that Minor wasn’t apt to get much better than he already was. Last year Minor was pressed into big-league service after Kris Medlen was injured. He won three games in August but was awful thereafter, prompting a puzzled Cox to ask reporters: “Does he tell you he’s tired?” This spring Minor was edged for the No. 5 slot by Brandon Beachy, who wasn’t drafted at all. (Although Jair Jurrjens’ injury could leave a spot for Minor.)

The Braves have a better batting order than the Phillies. Even without a real leadoff hitter, Fredi G. has reason to feel good about his team’s bats. This team is going to score runs. It will probably outscore the team that has won the National League East four seasons running. The Phillies were already missing Jayson Werth, who left for Washington as a free agent, and now Domonic Brown, Werth’s replacement, has a broken wrist and Placido Polanco has a sore elbow and Chase Utley will begin the season on the disabled list with a bad knee that mightn’t get better without surgery.

It should be also noted that, at least in the National League, batters have to play the field. It’s silly to get excited about any numbers, bad or good, compiled in spring training. But anyone concerned about the Braves’ round-up-the-bats-and-let-the-gloves-take-care-of-themselves approach cannot be cheered by this: They made 32 errors in their first 31 exhibition games.

Strangest of all: The Phillies have become the Braves. Long before they began winning the division, the Phillies dazzled you with everyday talent — first Jimmy Rollins and Scott Rolen and Bobby Abreu and Mike Lieberthal, then Utley and Shane Victorino and Ryan Howard. Now most of Philadelphia’s healthy assets are in their starting rotation, and we around here know better than anyone that rotations rule the regular season. The good news is that the Braves again look capable of taking the wild card; the bad is that the Phillies have too many arms not to finish first over 162 games.

By Mark Bradley

113 comments Add your comment

Bill

March 27th, 2011
1:24 pm

Defense will doom this team.

Bob in SF

March 27th, 2011
1:36 pm

Many of the errors made this spring are by guys who won’t be playing everyday roles but it is concerning. Hopefully Hicks coming of age means Conrad will only be a pinch hitting and letting his glove gather dust for most of the season.

Jamaaliver

March 27th, 2011
1:39 pm

I gotta agree with Bill. The warning signs are all there.

Steve

March 27th, 2011
1:41 pm

Mark, why did the AJC not have a big baseball preview like in years past? Or is that coming out Thursday?

Andy

March 27th, 2011
1:43 pm

Wow. Terry McGuirk just crushed Schultz on the Braves TV broadcast.

Delta Stewardess

March 27th, 2011
1:52 pm

What about the Hawks fans getting screw out of money for playoff tickets? The Hawks in the playoff is like GT in the MNC game. Paying good money for a bad prodct.

markie mark

March 27th, 2011
1:54 pm

dang, I am at work and missing the game….where are the bootleg internet feeds when you need them?

and I dont think Freddy is gonna put up with the defensive miscues as much as Bobby….Freddy is too young a manager to take that in stride, I think.

5150 UOAD

March 27th, 2011
1:58 pm

I hope the Braves just feel good and play hard. I think they make the playoffs.

5150 UOAD

March 27th, 2011
2:01 pm

Mark B
Only your Kentucky Team is left in the Dance for the SEC. Are you going to Blog during their game or just watch from home?

Hillbilly Deluxe

March 27th, 2011
2:01 pm

The Phillies have their question marks and their starting 8 isn’t what it has been but as long as the starting rotation stays healthy, they’ll be in the hunt. I think Fredi working the Braves harder might show up as a positive factor, late in the season, but the defense has got to get better. And don’t forget the Fish. Should be interesting to watch it all play out over the summer.

Football Fan

March 27th, 2011
2:06 pm

The Phils have no bullpen at all. That means the Braves will surprise and win the NL East.

oldbird

March 27th, 2011
2:09 pm

Braves win division over Phillies. We have almost as good a starting rotation and a much better bullpen.

steve

March 27th, 2011
2:23 pm

Team looks strong but there are dire concerns. Fragile Freddie… just not sure he can cut the mustard offensively at 1st, weak uppercut swing will lead to many a pop up and strikeout, he is the weak link in what should be a healthy and productive offense. Starting rotation is 2nd best in NL, only behind Phillies but infield defense is a concern Bullpen may be the best in the NL and possibly baseball. Lots of young arms with high pressure game experience. Hopefully the Braves will score enough runs to overcome the errors… I say they are a sure lock for 87-90 wins and a wildcard spot.

My offensive predictions:
1) Martin Prado .305 19 HR 90 RBI
2) Nate Mcclouth .268 22 HR 68 RBI
3) Chipper Jones .289 24 HR 90 RBI
4) Dan Uggla .275 34 HR 102 RBI
5) Brian Mccann .276 22 HR 74 RBI
6) Jason Heyward .266 20 HR 81 RBI
7) Alex Gonzalez .259 18 HR 72 RBI
8) Fragile Freddie .206 5 HR 35 RBI ( will be demoted to triple A by June)
8) Eric Hinske . 260 13 HR 50 RBI
9) Pitcher

steve

March 27th, 2011
2:23 pm

and for some reason (8) comes up as a smiley face on here…

Mark Bradley`s Booster

March 27th, 2011
2:25 pm

Interesting observations Mark. I hope you are right escecially about the team being worked harder under FG. Also, it would help a lot if he could get them to work smarter (need to greatly improve in the field by not trying to make plays that cannot be made)as well as harder.

Mark Bradley`s Booster

March 27th, 2011
2:30 pm

Delta Stewardess: Did you retire in the 1960 era before they changed your title to Flight Attendant? I was hired in 1972 but I don`t recall ever seeing a Delta Stewardess.

GovClintonTyree

March 27th, 2011
2:31 pm

Mark, please talk to your editor (I assume there are still editors) and talk to him/her about the whole “Braves New World” thing. My God, that’s overused. Trite. Hackneyed. Stop me when you’ve agreed.

Never Trade Young Pitching

March 27th, 2011
2:33 pm

If the Phils have become the Braves does that mean that the Braves have become the Mets? Pitching and defense win. Every season obnoxious Mets fans would show up proclaiming their latest acquisition to be the difference maker. A strong rotation covers up a lot of ills. Theirs is stronger than ours.

Objective observer

March 27th, 2011
2:34 pm

@Delta Stewardess
Nice to find some Bulldogs who don’t pee all over themselves when they see the Gators coming.
That would be the Butler Bulldogs.

Hillbilly Deluxe

March 27th, 2011
2:35 pm

and for some reason (8) comes up as a smiley face on here…

Try adding an extra space or two between the 8 and the ). Might work; not sure.

DHD

March 27th, 2011
2:35 pm

Braves New World????? REALLY??? Did you just make that up? Braves fans….REAL Braves fans…make fun of writers who use that EVERY TIME there is a change with the Braves. I really am surprised you used this lame term.

Brainerd Brave

March 27th, 2011
2:36 pm

Andy,

He crushed Forbes Magazine. Schultz article was more or less the same interview with McGuirk he just gave on tv. They did not make that very clear during the broadcast though.

5150 UOAD

March 27th, 2011
2:40 pm

Any chance Jurgins will be taken off our hands anytime soon?

bvillebaron

March 27th, 2011
2:41 pm

Steve:

Thanks so much for enlightening all of us about how lousy Freeman’s swing is and how poorly he will play this year. Why should we listen to career PROFESSIONAL baseball talent evaluators who keep proclaiming that Freddie has a terrific swing when we have you to keep us straight? Obviously that .318 BA, 18 HR and 87 RBI (with one stint on the DL) as one of the youngest players in the International League last year just a fluke, huh?

Savannah Fan

March 27th, 2011
2:42 pm

Okay- let’s play ball and see how it shakes out-we should win few and lose a few

Steve

March 27th, 2011
2:49 pm

Yea that other Steve guy is a moron. Freeman will do much better then his prediction.

Mark Bradley`s Booster

March 27th, 2011
2:50 pm

DHD: As captain of the Mark B. booster Club, I must respectfully disagree with your 2:35 disparaging comments
about the Braves New Word as used by the dean of AJC sportswriters. Mr Bradley used the term to properly describe the departing of BC and coming of FG. When was the last time Mark used this term? I don`t think he used a lame term but a very appropriate one.

GovClintonTyree

March 27th, 2011
2:50 pm

“The Phillies were already missing Jayson Werth, who left for Washington as a free agent, and now Domonic Brown, Werth’s replacement, has a broken wrist and Placido Polanco has a sore elbow and Chase Utley will begin the season on the disabled list with a bad knee that mightn’t get better without surgery.”

I think you’re discounting this a bit too much, Mark. You realize that they’ll open with Ben Francisco in right, Luis Castillo at second, potentially Wilson Valdez at third…Rollins, Ibanez, Ruiz, Howard and Victorino are over 160 years old, most of them with injury histories?

Phils are going to see a lot of 2-1 games. Better get used to it. Halladay shuts ‘em down for seven, Madson, Romero, Contreras, or some other tomato can comes in and gets blown up. Wanna bet the Phils lead the league in lost leads this year?

Kurdt Kobain

March 27th, 2011
2:51 pm

Braves have a good enough team to win the East. Phillies’ offense isn’t what it used to be, they don’t have much of a pen, and I would be surprised if they got a career year out of all four of their rotation guys. Someone’s probably going to get hurt and someone’s probably going to have a down year. I want to see Oswalt and Lee pitch a full year in that stadium.

Not saying the Braves will win the East, but I don’t think the difference between Philly and ATL is very much. Philly just has more star power and name recognition.

steve

March 27th, 2011
2:56 pm

To the other steve and bvillebaron: I hope I am wrong but just because freedman shined in triple A doesn’t mean he is going to shine in the bigs… anybody remember Jordan Schafer? Freeman looked terrible during his late season call-up last year. A late season call-up a season doesn’t make but outside of hitting a homer off Roy Halladay he looked clueless at the plate. I’ll be the first one to eat my words if he wins rookie of the year.

GovClintonTyree

March 27th, 2011
3:04 pm

Yeah, but Steve, that one home run went a long, long way and was off Roy Halladay. Besides, he went 4-24. You’re going to slam him for his average over 24 at bats?

He’s got a very compact swing, brings his hands directly to the ball, and has hit at every level after a brief adjustment period. I’m thinking we ought to see what he’s got before pronouncing him the next Scott Thorman.

Hillbilly Deluxe

March 27th, 2011
3:11 pm

the dean of AJC sportswriters.

With all due respect to MB, I believe the dean of AJC sportswriters goes by the name of Mr. Bisher, even if he doesn’t work there anymore.

Katherine

March 27th, 2011
3:11 pm

kawakami is awful…hope they can at least trade him for something

GovClintonTyree

March 27th, 2011
3:22 pm

In Cincinnati, they’re dropping like flies. They might could use KK.

GovClintonTyree

March 27th, 2011
3:25 pm

You know, Minor is lefthanded, touted, and looked like a stud to me last year. He had a good spring. There’s absolutely no reason he shouldn’t be in the rotation, unless somebody very, very impressive beat him out in the spring.

As much as I like Minor, and conventional baseball thinking would favor Minor, they must think Beachy is something special.

oldbird

March 27th, 2011
3:32 pm

As a fellow Carl Hiassen fan GovClintonTyree, is it okay if I just call you Skink or Captain?

Scj

March 27th, 2011
3:56 pm

thoght you would write about ku possibly losing along with duke and oh st and that crushing 80% of the brackets. lol
wish i took unc. i almost did

bvillebaron

March 27th, 2011
4:01 pm

Steve:

Of course success in the minors is no guarantee of success in the bigs. My only point is that your assessment of Freeman seems a little harsh and at odds with how other view his swing and tools. Keep in mind also that Freeman’s track record in the minors is that he has struggled for the first month or so with each new promotion before he settles in. Hopefully, the fans will show a little patience if he gets off to what should not be seen as a totally unexpected slow start for the first month or so. Finally, 24 sporadic at bats in September (mostly of the pinch hit variety) for a 20 year old kid who is used to playing every day is no measure of anything.

Jes

March 27th, 2011
4:10 pm

Time for the refs to start giving ku the calls. No way they can let two small schools make the final 4
and possibly crash the nat champ game

chem

March 27th, 2011
4:11 pm

“first based” “here we use the word ’stability’ advisedly” “would became” …..Did DOB write this paragraph for you?

BeerDawg

March 27th, 2011
4:11 pm

Steve, C’mon….. McOut….22 HR?…..Seriously?……Really?

If he has 22 hits all year I would be surprised…… get real. Yeah, yeah..I know, he had a decent spring against a bunch of AA and AAA pitching

GO VCU

March 27th, 2011
4:27 pm

If they win, there will be no #1 seeds in the final 4. Has that ever happened?

Jim B

March 27th, 2011
4:27 pm

(8)Just testing

GwinnettDad

March 27th, 2011
4:28 pm

@Steve – ah, the joys of spring! The optimism! You have four players, including Chipper, with 81 RBI or more on a team that McCann led last year with 77. All 8 positions contribute 18 homers or more on a team that last year went 21-18-16-15-11. What in the world are you smoking?

Actually, I hope you’re right. But 177 home runs from just these 8 positions? Can you say, “Fat Chance!?” I’ve heard of comeback players before, but your predictions would require Jesus to at least be a 1st base coach.

GO VCU

March 27th, 2011
4:30 pm

Phillies won 97 games last year with 6 of their starters on the DL from time to time.
They get lee and halladay for an entire season? And some idiots think they wont dominate?
The braves will be lousy at scoring runs again and no wild card. WC is going to Chicago

Whoa Nellie

March 27th, 2011
4:32 pm

Like Young off the bench, compact strike zone, great for pinch running and a decent fielder. Have seen him play numerous times, always hustles. Bobby would have kept Mather, at least Fredi went with results and not well he get going eventually mentality.

Mike

March 27th, 2011
4:37 pm

Lets look at the Braves defense this spring from the starters shall we:
Prado: 1 in 21 games(came at 3B)
McLouth: 0 in 19 games
Chipper: 1 in 14 games
Gonzo: 2 in 21 games
Freeman: 3 in 22
Heyward: 0 in 17
McCann: 1 in 16
Uggla: 2 in 22
Pitcher: 2 in 32
Going by at least one or two of these guys played in each of the now 32 games 12 errors is not bad especially given it is kinda tough for guys to get in the flow when they do not play constantly.

@BeerDawg. Yeah it was just ST but guess what. McLouth’s struggles began in spring last year against those AA and AAA pitcher. (No its not like he ever faces ML pitchers ever in ST (sarcasm).) I will admit 22 HR is a bit high but McLouth has been solid. Even had a double today against arguably the best pitcher in baseball.

Whoa Nellie

March 27th, 2011
4:43 pm

The Cubs..Seriously…Colvin is solid, Ramirez and Soriano, though, are getting are getting old. Ramirez has only played in 206 games over the last two years. Bullpen-two words-Kerry and Wood. Starting rotation still has the mentally unstable Zambrano. Love Wrigley Field and like the Cubs..But they will choke just the Jayhawks did today..The Goat Curse lives on..

Mike

March 27th, 2011
4:44 pm

GO VCU. Yeah you are right about the Phillies winning 97. Btw the Phillies had a whole year of Halladay last year. However Atlanta won 91 games with dead bodies at LF and CF, their leader out for 1/2 the year and recieved only 2 good months from their 1B. I will bet this team scores more runs than Philly this year. Especially if Utley is out for about 2 or 3 months.

Fab-Five Fredi

March 27th, 2011
4:47 pm

Raw-Dawg okay for pinch hitting only, God help us if he gets in the field.