The Braves just missed the playoffs last season, so we wanted to know from you the fans what it would take for them to reach the postseason this year. Here are 12 ways for the Braves to make the playoffs in 2012.
1. Stay healthy
This is the No. 1 key to the season, according to everyone from the front office, to manager Fredi Gonzalez to the players and the fans. Last year we lost too many crucial pitchers to injuries in extremely crucial parts of the season, Josh Praigg said on Facebook. Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens missed the final month of the season and Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Jason Heyward and Martin Prado all played fewer than 130 games. Health! We have all the tools to do it! Shanna Beauchamp Rich said on Facebook.
2. Come through in the clutch
The Braves hit .249 with runners in scoring position last year, 18th out of 30 teams, but that number fell to .229 with runners in scoring position and two out, and then plummeted to .195 second to last in the majors with the bases loaded. (The Braves need to improve their) situational hitting, @FatherofTKDKid said via Twitter. (They need to get) the runner home from second or third with less than two outs. The Braves scored 641 runs in 2010, 22nd in the majors. Hit with runners on the bases. Plain and simple, Jordan DuBois posted on Facebook.
3. Chipper plays 100 games
If he pushes himself through his various injuries, aches and pains, Chipper Jones might be able to play 120 games, but dont count on it. Look for about 100-115 games from him in his last season. If he does that, Jones can be counted on to hit about .275 with 15-18 home runs and about 75 RBIs. Jones will start the season on the DL after playing 126 games last season, but said Tuesday he might be back sooner than the first home series on April 13.
4. Bullpen stays fresh
The late inning trio of Craig Kimbrell, Jonny Venters and Eric OFlaherty were steady and true last year, shutting down opponents in the last three innings of games. They suffered from overwork in September and slumped, so GM Frank Wren added veterans Livan Hernandez and Chad Durbin both former starters to the bullpen to help eat innings, if needed. Having a healthy Kris Medlen, another former starter, could help protect OVentbrel. (We need) a pen that isnt burned out by September, Josh Ezell said on Facebook.
5. No Struggla from Uggla
Second baseman Dan Uggla pressured himself to excel for the Braves after being traded from the Marlins, which only hampered his performance in the first three months. A team-record 33-game hitting streak helped salvage his season, but the Braves need Uggla to provide consistency and right-handed power in the middle of the lineup all year. Uggla has to start off hot this year, Rob Halsey posted on Facebook.
6. Kid SS plays big
After starting slowly in spring training, rookie Tyler Pastornicky became more comfortable and fought off fellow rookie Andrelton Simmons to win the starting shortstop job. The Braves hope that he will provide strong defense and that he can hit major league pitching well enough to give a boost to the offense. He has good speed and expects to contribute with some steals this season.
7. Offense out of left field
The acquisition of Juan Francisco will allow left fielder Martin Prado to spend more time in left field when Jones is hurt or needs a rest, adding more pop to the lineup. Prado missed more than a month last year with a staph infection and the offensive production from left field was non-existent in his absence. The Braves most hope for bounce-back strong offensive years from outfield reserves Eric Hinske and Matt Diaz.
8. Heyward goes upward
Heres what @sfarner31 posted on Twitter: We gotta have Jhey have a monster season, which I think he will. Production from right fielder Jason Heyward seems to be at the front of fans minds. Theyre worried that his stats will be more like last years .227, 14 home runs and 42 RBIs, but they must remember that a shoulder injury limited him throughout 2011. K.C. Shannon is a believer: Jason Heyward bats .285 with 20 HRs, 85 RBIs, he posted on Facebook.
9. Stay consistent
There was a point last season when the Braves had the third-best record in the majors. Then they had an 8-game lead in the wild card race before going 10-20 the rest of the way to miss the playoffs. Injuries throughout the lineup and to the starting staff were a large part of the Braves hot-or-cold ways last year, so the health factor will play a role in the teams consistency this season.
10. Young arms mature
The Braves will begin the season without a true No. 1 starter while Tim Hudson continues to recover from offseason back surgery. That means the staff of Tommy Hanson (25), Jair Jurrjens (26), Mike Minor (24), Brandon Beachy (25) and Randall Delgado (22) must continue to improve and build their endurance to work later in games. Kimbrell (23) and Venters (27) must prove that success early in their careers hasnt been a fluke.
11. Set Bourn free
Center fielder Michael Bourn gives the Braves their first legitimate leadoff hitter since Rafael Furcal in 2005, but the question remains: Will Gonzalez let him run? Bourn led the Braves with 22 steals in just 53 games, and hes led the NL in steals in each of the past three years, so the Braves would be wise to let him run and let him ignite their offense. Our offense cant rely on home runs alone, @sarah_cmorris tweeted.
12. Finish strong
If the Braves are in position to win the NL East or capture one of the two wild card spots, their fans hope history doesnt repeat itself. They offered many versions of this simple advice: No epic chokes at the end of the season! Mandi MacDonald posted on Facebook. The Braves were too beat up and exhausted by the first of September to keep their wild card lead in 2011, leading to their collapse. DONT choke in the stretch!!!! Margie Leggett Garner pleaded on Facebook.