Springtime Storylines: Did I pick the Braves to win the NL East because I'm a fanboy?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: a switch over to the senior circuit, which kicks off with the Atlanta Braves — yes, the Atlanta Braves — as my first place pick.

big question: Did I pick the Braves to win the NL East because I’m a fanboy?

No! Well, maybe. Look, I’m basing this on the merits, I swear. It’s a rotation thing, mostly. The Braves finished third in the majors with a 3.57 ERA last season, and that’s with a swooning Derek Lowe, a mostly absent Tim Hudson and with Tommy Hanson not making his debut until June. Sure, Javier Vazquez is gone, but the Braves’ rotation is arguably the best in the league and no one who is coming back had a freakishly good year in 2009. I have this strange feeling that Lowe is going to have a bounceback season. The amount one fretted about the team giving up Vazquez was inversely related to how much one remembered how good a pitcher Tim Hudson was before his surgery. Jair Jurrjens and Hanson are legitimate studs. It’s not going to be easy to score runs against these guys.

At the same time, the Braves’ fatally-flawed 2009 offense stands to take a great leap forward. The notion that Jason Heyward isn’t going to dramatically outperform Jeff Francoeur (68 OPS+ while with the Braves) in right and Nate McLouth isn’t going to dramatically outperform Jordon Schafer (62 OPS+) in center is redonkulous. Chipper Jones’ second half slump was unprecedented in his career. While his MVP-candidate days are certainly over, he should round back into nice form for a late-career Hall of Famer. Think nice OBP and average with reduced power. Troy Glaus at first base is certainly a risk, but if he can stay healthy he will improve on the woeful production the Braves got from their first basemen last year as well.

So what else is going on?

  • The above optimism about the lineup and the rotation notwithstanding, the make or break of this team is going to be the bullpen. I like the additions of Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito, but I’d be lying if I said I thought they’d each hold up well this year. Let’s face it: they’re old. If they do, Katie bar the door. If they don’t, well, we’ll just chalk this whole winning-the-NL-East thing up to springtime optimism, OK?
  • Let’s talk about Heyward. I have no doubt that he’s going to be a great one, but we have to be realistic about what he’ll do in 2010. He’s 20. He’s played 50 games above A-ball. The fact that he forced his way onto the 25-man roster despite his age and the fact that the Braves traded for a major league outfielder just this winter speaks well of his potential, but he’s going to get schooled by a lot of big league pitchers who are close to being old enough to be his father. As alluded to above, the key to Heyward is not to see where he stacks up on the leader boards, because he won’t register much of a blip there. The key is to see how much he outperforms the dreck the Braves trotted out to right field last season. First let’s watch him lap Jeff Francoeur three or four times. Then we can talk about the text of his Hall of Fame plaque.

  • This is Bobby Cox’s last season, but I’m not going to abide much in the way of “Let’s win it for Bobby!” baloney. Baseball players are professionals. They’re always trying to win it. The notion that anyone apart from maybe Chipper Jones, who has worked for the guy for the past 16 or 17 years is going to get some kind of emotional boost out of the last hurrah is the stuff of simpletons, and come to think of it, I don’t really believe even Chipper Jones is wired that way. 
  • Though none of the Big Three actually pitched in Atlanta last year, it is worth noting that this truly is the first season since 1986 when neither Tom Glavine, John Smoltz or Greg Maddux will have any bearing on the Atlanta Braves on-field prospects whatsoever (last year Glavine had that rehab assignment drama). Show of hands: how many of you weren’t alive in 1986? For those of you who were alive, what were you doing? I turned 13 around the time of the All-Star break, had a crush on a girl named Anne that I hoped might one day lead to kissing of some sort (it didn’t) and was not yet aware that my Huey Lewis & The News tapes — yes, tapes — really, really sucked.  

So how
are they gonna do?

Am I wearing rose-colored glasses? Probably. Am I drinking the Jason Heyward
Kool-Aid? Sure, I’m not gonna lie about it. But the fact is that there
is good reason to think that multiple aspects of the Braves’ attack will
improve in 2010 and no strong reason to think that any aspect of it is
going to seriously regress. I think it might just be enough to steal
this thing from the Phillies. Besides, I’ve hewed pretty closely to the conventional wisdom with these picks so far that it’s about time I go out on a bit of a limb here. If it’s going to break while I’m on it I’d rather it be a limb with my team’s name on it.

Prediction: First place in the NL East, Bobby Cox retires a winner and Chipper Jones is named player-manager for 2011. Why not?

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I guess the White Sox don’t count

CHICAGO - APRIL 04: General Manager Ken Williams of the Chicago White Sox shows off his World Series Championship ring during ceremonies prior to the start of a game against the Cleveland Indians on April 4, 2006 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Getty Images

I realize everyone is super excited about the Cubs being in the World Series for the first time since 1945, with the chance to win it for the first time since 1908. But you’d think folks would remember that it’s just the Cubs — and not Chicago as a whole — who have been away from the Fall Classic for so long.

I know their recent struggles makes it seem like a long, long time ago, but the White Sox won the World Series in 2005. They were in the World Series in 1959 too. You wouldn’t know that, though, if you looked at some prominent media outlets:





I understand the impulse to tell the “a whole city is coming together!” story every time stuff like this happens, but there are a lot of White Sox fans in Chicago. A good number of them don’t give a crap about the Cubs. Many even resent them for being the glory franchise in the city in the eyes of many. They certainly don’t feel like there’s a championship drought afoot, and I imagine they’re somewhat cranky about having their team’s glory plastered over like this.

Breitbart gives Curt Schilling a radio show to fight the Clinton criminal conspiracy

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 27:  Former ESPN Analyst Curt Schilling talks about his ESPN dismissal and politics during SiriusXM's Breitbart News Patriot Forum hosted by Stephen K. Bannon and co-host Alex Marlow at the SiriusXM Studio on April 27, 2016 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
Getty Images

Former major league pitcher and recently unemployed baseball commentator Curt Schilling has a new gig. He will be joining Breitbart News as the host of a daily online radio show during which he will offer political commentary and take calls from listeners. The radio show will be called “Whatever it Takes.”

The press release describes the show as, “Schilling’s unfiltered and insightful commentary on a mix of topics ranging from politics and culture to current affairs and perhaps some sports.”

Here’s Schilling’s take on it all, again, from the press release:

“God places things in our lives for specific reasons. After being fired by ESPN for my conservative opinions, I arrive here at Breitbart News, which I consider the last bastion of actual journalism. Yes, it’s openly conservative, but as much as liberals despise us they can’t deny the facts behind the arguments. This is the most important election of our lifetimes and under no circumstances can we allow a career criminal to be put in the Oval Office . . . I am proud to be a part of a team that will continue to point out the very thing that’s ruining this country: liberal, progressive, socialist agenda driven by the elite globalist connected to American politics and the Clinton family.”

That’s special. And I suspect the sorts of people who tell Bill and me to “stick to sports” won’t be doing the same to Schilling. Which is fine. I’m all for letting a thousand freak flags fly.  And Schilling’s is one of the freakiest.

In other news, Schilling tried to organize a Donald Trump rally over the weekend at Boston’s city hall. About 15 people showed up for it. Good luck with those radio ratings, Curt.