Mar 6, 2014; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcherJulio Teheran
(49) warms up in the first inning as the Braves beat the Washington Nationals 3-2 at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit:David Manning
-USA TODAY Sports
Despite all of the turmoil about pitcher’s elbows in Spring Training this year, I expect the Braves to again compete for and try to defend their 2013 NL Eastern Division crown. The Atlanta Braves lost veteran starter Tim Hudson this off-season to free agency and Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to injury. However, I don’t consider Beachy too much of a loss because I didn’t expect him to have much of an impact this season anyway. Medlen will be missed, but the quick signing of Ervin Santana by Frank Wren should help take the sting out of that. I think a starting five of Teheran, Minor, Santana, Wood and Floyd could definitely be a rotation that can lead the Braves back into the playoffs. I look for Julio Teheran to take that next step and become the Braves ace this season, and I just hope Aaron Harang and David Hale can do well enough starting the season to not put the Braves in too big of a hole.
As for the hitters, I do think BJ Upton and Dan Uggla will both improve on their horrible 2013, although that is not too bold of a prediction since they really have nowhere to go but up. I could see BJ getting on base enough to steal 20+ bases this year and I think Uggla will get back over 20 homers. Freeman will continue his ride to becoming one of the premier hitters in the National League. I think Jason Heyward is finally ready to make his jump to stardom. As long as he can avoid all the odd injuries that have seemed to follow him around, I think he is due for a breakout season. Unfortunately, I think Gattis and Simmons will have a hard time repeating their offensive success of 2013. Gattis will still hit some bombs, but he has got to learn how to be more patient and take some walks. Chris Johnson is also due to even out a bit, but nothing too drastic cause the dude can still hit. He won’t hit .320 again, but should stay north of the .280 mark. Finally, I do like the Braves bench right now. Doumit, Pena, Schafer, Pastornicky and Laird is a pretty good hitting bench in my opinion.
As for the team, I don’t think the Braves will see much drop off from last season. I don’t see where many of the national writers think the Braves will only win 82-83 games. I don’t believe the team is 13 or 14 games worse than they were last season. I do expect the Nationals to improve their record over last season, but that is basically because they were a better team in 2013 than their record indicated. The NL East is basically the Braves, the Nats and hot garbage, so these two teams will fight tooth and nail all season for the division title. I think the Braves will take them by a game or two and both teams will win 90+ games.