Twenty-twelve was probably a year the Atlanta Braves would like to forget. Their late season slide that seemed to contain a Whitman’s Sampler of ways to lose. We’ve seen the story. It opened a spot for St. Louis, who went on to win the whole damn thing. Oh, what could have been Atlanta. But that is the franchise in a nutshell. What does 2012 hold?
The onus on last year’s rough September shifted at camp when Chipper Jones announced that he’d be hanging his cleats this offseason. That lasted about 3-4 days and then Chipper shredded his knee, and will be out for a couple of months. Look for Martin Prado to play 3B in his absence. Prado is as utility as it gets, and while his bat is nowhere near a sexy as Chipper’s sounds, he should be able to put up similar numbers. Prado’s outfield duties (where he saw the majority of his playing time in 2011) will be handled by some combination of Eric Hinske, Matt Diaz, and Jose Constanza (All three together = one hell of an awful player). The biggest thing about a missing Chipper? The presence he brings to a lineup and clubhouse. It will be tough to replace it while he’s out.
Yeah, there is more than an aging Chipper Jones on this squad! Pfffft. This guys named Jason Heyward should really improve on his numbers from 2011. He’s so ripe, young, and athletic with an incredibly high upside that makes the sky the limit. Elsewhere, Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla should both be better now that they have spent more time with the Braves. I really like Freeman, as long as Fredi Gonzalez doesn’t screw with the kid ala last September, he should be very good in the lineup and at first.
On the pitching side of things, Mike Minor has had a huge spring and looks poised to take the next step forward and could become one of the league’s best young lefty starters. Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens are both very good pitchers if they stay healthy… healthy being the key term. Brandon Beachy is very underrated and can really miss bats with his stuff, he just needs some help from the bullpen. Somehow he started 25 games last year, and finished with 10 decisions. Then there is the ever consistent Tim Hudson, who is like 207 years old and the only guy remaining from the Frat House in Oakland (oh, you say Barry Zito still pitches? I call that batting practice. HAHAHAHHAHAHAH). Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado have big upsides, but they are still so young it’s tough to completely count on them for this year.
The Marlins really spent some money this offseason, but in the garbage known as the AAAA National League, the Braves should still be one of the top teams. Prediction: 90-72. Wildcard. *******.