No obviously it’s not the Mets, but don’t worry Philly haters it’s not the Phillies either. Going into the 2011 season the team to beat is the same team who lost a series to the Giants 3-1 by the narrowest of margins (all games decided by one run). They are what could be the perfect mix of young and old, veteran and prime. Of course by now you know, or knew already that team is indeed our old foe the Braves. It appears the Braves could be again ready to take the NL East crown and go on what could be another great run. Not only is this team built to win on paper for 2011, they are built to win for the foreseeable future.
Lets take a look at their roster.
Starting staff lead by 2 veterans with young pitching that could be reaching their prime.
Hudson (34) (who by the way pitched 228 innings to a 2.83 ERA in 2010)
Lowe (37) (16-12)
Hanson (24) (Wow, look at this kid’s peripheral stats.)
Jar Jar Binks (25) (Had an off year in 2010 due to injury. If healthy you get 2009 stats 215 innings 2.60 ERA)
5th starter, the Braves as always have this position well stocked with lots of youth. To start the season will be 24 year old Brandon Beachy. Brandon got a call up last year and produced a 3.00 ERA in 3 starts with 15 K’s in 15 innings. His 2010 minors season produced a 1.73 ERA in 119 innings with 148 K’s. WOW, that’s a prospect.
This is the area of most concern for the Braves. Can Kimbrel and Venters replace a rejuvenated Wagner? Stats alone say yeah as the 22 and 25 year olds produced incredible numbers last year. To back up that youth, as mentioned earlier, seems the perfect collection of veterans.
Peter Moylan, 85 games last season.
Scott Linebrink, veteran reliever coming from the White Sox.
O’Flaherty, 25 year old LH relief pitcher who produced very good stats for a young LOOGY.
Sherrill, uh…. yeah well every team has a weak link. Who wants to bet he recovers with the Braves?
This used to be the running joke with the Braves. Well they can pitch but that offense… That could be no more. The Braves have produced a lineup full of youth, veteran leadership and players entering their prime.
Of course with the offense you have to mention future HOF Chipper Jones. Chipper has not been healthy since 2008. However, after hearing interviews from this spring he says that he feels better than he has in years and is coming in with uh… a chip on his shoulder.
Now combine that veteran leader with Dan Uggla. We know at this point what Uggla is. A hitter who has become a passable defender. Uggla at this point is a lock for 30 HR and 100 RBI, adding his bat to the Braves may be the biggest pickup in the NL East. Yes I know the Phillies got Lee, but their staff was already very good. The Braves lineup was missing that 30 HR guy and now that is in place.
Throw in Brian McCann to that list of veterans, guy entering his prime. Anyone surprised by the fact that McCann just turned 27? McCann consistently puts up 20+ HR and a .289, .360, .480 slash line from the catcher position. McCann is also known as one of the more clutch hitters in the game posting a .295, .397, .517, .914 line with RISP2/O for his career.
Veteran Alex Gonzalez mans the SS position and contributed 22 HR to the Jays and Braves last season. Not bad production considering he is likely to hit 7th or 8th.
The next prime time guy is Martin Prado (27). Prado maybe one of the more underrated players in the NL. What has he done? Over the last 3 years he has hit .309, .358, .461, .819 while playing virtually every position.
Nate McLouth maybe the key to their lineup. Nate was TERRIBLE in 2010. Honestly my vocabulary does not contain a word to describe his 2010. However, many scouts say that he is ready to return to his Pirate days. If that happens then the Braves may be poised for a deep run in the playoffs.
Finally, of course is young slugger Jayson Heyward. Of course Heyward could take a step back in his sophomore year (we as Ike supporters hope that there is an exception to the rule). .277, .393, .456, .849 for a rookie season is quite the feat.
The Braves bench? Not sure yet. The line is Hinske, Ross, Conrad, Hicks and Young. Just like any bench it is very fluid. From the naked eye it looks weak.
Now factor in that the Braves have one of the better farm-systems in baseball. (Ranked #3 by Baseball America) This not only provides depth but also trading chips to fill holes.
While this is not another Phillie bashing post, we know how good they are, it is an eye opening look for me just how good the Braves could be. As I wrote my predictions (will not still Gonzo’s thunder here) I had the Braves neck and neck with the Phillies. After doing my research for this article I have the Braves slightly ahead. I think with the Braves, honestly there is less room for error. The Phillies with their great staff still, because of age and depth, have more risk attached in my opinion.
So what does this matter to the Mets? For 2011, not much. However, it seems as though our focus has been to catch up to the Phillies when in fact the Braves may have already done that and went right on by. Not just for 2011 (as that remains to be seen pending Philly injuries) but no doubt for the future.