• Exclusives

    Breaking down the 2014 Braves

    As we gear up for the Braves’ regular season opener at Miller Park, it’s time now for a quick look back at the Spring that was.

    If you care about the Grapefruit League standings — you shouldn’t, but just in case you do — here they are: 

     

    W

    L

    PCT

    GB

    HOME

    ROAD

    RS

    RA

    DIFF

    STRK

    L10

    Tampa Bay

    16

    6

    .727

    -

    8-4

    8-2

    127

    90

    +37

    Won 1

    6-2

    Miami

    18

    11

    .621

    1.5

    7-7

    11-4

    133

    116

    +17

    Won 1

    6-4

    Baltimore

    13

    9

    .591

    3

    6-5

    7-4

    142

    110

    +32

    Lost 1

    3-4

    Pittsburgh

    14

    10

    .583

    3

    5-6

    9-4

    131

    106

    +25

    Lost 1

    5-4

    NY Yankees

    16

    12

    .571

    3

    7-6

    9-6

    128

    106

    +22

    Won 1

    7-3

    Detroit

    14

    12

    .538

    4

    7-7

    7-5

    149

    120

    +29

    Won 2

    5-5

    Washington

    15

    13

    .536

    4

    10-4

    5-9

    149

    121

    +28

    Won 1

    5-5

    Toronto

    14

    13

    .519

    4.5

    7-7

    7-6

    121

    151

    -30

    Won 2

    7-3

    NY Mets

    14

    14

    .500

    5

    6-7

    8-7

    143

    149

    -6

    Lost 3

    6-4

    St. Louis

    11

    13

    .458

    6

    7-6

    4-7

    126

    137

    -11

    Lost 1

    5-5

    Houston

    10

    15

    .400

    7.5

    4-8

    6-7

    102

    143

    -41

    Won 2

    3-7

    Atlanta

    12

    18

    .400

    8

    8-7

    4-11

    141

    161

    -20

    Lost 1

    4-6

    Boston

    10

    16

    .385

    8

    5-9

    5-7

    99

    138

    -39

    Won 1

    3-6

    Minnesota

    8

    15

    .348

    8.5

    4-7

    4-8

    98

    112

    -14

    Lost 2

    2-8

    Philadelphia

    9

    17

    .346

    9

    4-9

    5-8

    102

    129

    -27

    Lost 2

    4-5

    OF Jason Heyward hit .323 with 4 HR this spring.

    OF Jason Heyward hit .323 with 4 HR this spring.

    WHAT DOES THE BRAVES’ SPRING TELL US ABOUT THE SEASON AHEAD?

    Spring stats count for nothing and are rarely reliable predictors of regular season results. Nevertheless, Spring performance can provide cause for optimism, and the Braves regulars have to feel pretty good about the swings they took over the last month.

    The 135-million dollar man, Freddie Freeman, put up eye popping numbers, as did Jason Heyward. Justin Upton started slow, but came on strong over the last 10 days of the Grapefruit League season. Upton batted .296 with 3 homeruns and 3 doubles over his last 27 at-bats.

    Most encouraging of all was the performance of Dan Uggla, who suffered through a miserable 2013 season. He looked like his old self this spring. He walked a lot, reached base often, struck out frequently and hit for power while batting .269. That’s the Dan Uggla the Braves expect. Here’s hoping he brings that swing back to Atlanta.

    BJ Upton, who also endured a nightmarish 2013, led the team in strikeouts (21) this Spring. However, if he hits .267 with a .343 OBP in the regular season as he did this spring, that would be a drastic improvement on last year’s horrifying returns.

    Utility man Ramiro Pena impressed everyone in Braves camp, posting a 1.005 OPS through 44 at-bats.

    Atlanta’s new backup catcher (one of them, anyway), Ryan Doumit, also enjoyed a solid spring. He hit .289 with a .347 OBP.

    On the flip side, Evan Gattis, Andrelton Simmons and Chris Johnson are among the players forced to remind themselves “it was only spring” as the team headed north. Indeed it was only spring. They’ll hope to find their swings in Milwaukee on Monday.

    Here is how Braves hitters fared this spring: 

    AB

    R

    H

    2B

    3B

    HR

    RBI

    BB

    SO

    SB

    CS

    AVG

    OBP

    SLG

    OPS

     Pastornicky, T

    13

    0

    5

    0

    0

    0

    4

    1

    3

    0

    0

    .385

    .429

    .385

    .813

     Freeman, F

    57

    7

    21

    4

    0

    2

    9

    7

    8

    1

    0

    .368

    .448

    .544

    .992

     Pena, R

    44

    4

    16

    9

    1

    0

    7

    2

    6

    0

    0

    .364

    .391

    .614

    1.005

     Heyward, J

    65

    16

    21

    2

    1

    4

    5

    6

    12

    1

    0

    .323

    .380

    .569

    .950

     Constanza, J

    40

    6

    12

    3

    0

    0

    2

    4

    9

    1

    0

    .300

    .364

    .375

    .739

     Doumit, R

    45

    1

    13

    5

    1

    0

    3

    4

    11

    1

    0

    .289

    .347

    .444

    .791

     Uggla, D

    52

    9

    14

    0

    1

    4

    14

    12

    18

    0

    2

    .269

    .403

    .538

    .941

     Upton, B

    60

    4

    16

    2

    1

    1

    4

    7

    21

    4

    2

    .267

    .343

    .383

    .727

     Johnson, C

    68

    7

    18

    6

    0

    1

    10

    2

    11

    0

    0

    .265

    .282

    .397

    .679

     Simmons, A

    63

    4

    16

    4

    0

    1

    5

    3

    7

    0

    0

    .254

    .288

    .365

    .653

     Schafer, J

    61

    9

    15

    4

    1

    1

    5

    3

    12

    3

    1

    .246

    .281

    .393

    .675

     Upton, J

    55

    5

    12

    4

    0

    3

    9

    4

    14

    0

    1

    .218

    .271

    .455

    .726

     Gattis, E

    49

    3

    10

    5

    0

    1

    5

    0

    13

    0

    0

    .204

    .204

    .367

    .571

     Laird, G

    26

    1

    4

    2

    0

    1

    2

    2

    5

    0

    0

    .154

    .214

    .346

    .560

    RHP Ervin Santana will likely join Braves rotation in late April.

    RHP Ervin Santana will likely join the Braves starting rotation in late April.

    PAGING DR. ANDREWS

    Injuries were, of course, the unfortunate top story for the Braves in the pitching department. Starting pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy were both lost for the season as each recently went under the knife for the second “Tommy John” surgeries of their respective careers.

    Meanwhile, free agent addition Gavin Floyd, is rehabbing from his first TJ surgery, which he underwent  last May. It will be several weeks into the ’14 season before he joins the Braves’ rotation.

    Mike Minor is also getting late start due to an off-season urinary tract procedure and some early spring shoulder tendinitis. He is expected to return in mid or latter April.

    Helping to offset the sucker punch Lady Luck threw to the Braves’ groin this Spring was the surprise signing of Ervin Santana. Atlanta’s front office lifted spirits around Braves nation by blowing the budget to plug the Bob Wickman-sized hole that Medlen’s loss left in the starting rotation. More importantly, the move bettered the Braves’ odds of defending its NL East title. However, like Minor and Floyd, Santana will miss at least first few weeks of the season after getting a late start this spring.

    Now it appears middle relief candidate Cory Gearrin may be the latest Brave on the operating table of “Tommy John” specialist Dr. James Andrews. It’s safe to say the Braves have made the good doctor’s Christmas card list.

    PUTTING THE PITCHING LOSSES INTO PERSPECTIVE

    RHP Gavin Floyd could join the rotation by May 1.

    RHP Gavin Floyd could join the rotation by May 1.

    The loss of Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy was unexpected and it was a painful blow to be sure. However, Braves fans should hold off on the whaling and gnashing of teeth. I wouldn’t bet too heavily on a noticeable decline in the output of this pitching staff as compared to last year. And you may remember that Atlanta pitching topped MLB in ’13 with a 3.18 ERA.

    Gone are Medlen, Beachy and Veteran starter Tim Hudson, who departed as a free agent this winter. Let’s take ‘em one by one.

    What does Medlen’s loss mean to the Braves?

    Newly acquired Ervin Santana is capable of matching Medlen’s lost contribution to the team. In fact, Santana’s ’13 stats were remarkably similar to those of Kris Medlen. (I’m assuming you know better than to put any stock in win-loss records.)

      GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO W L WAR WHIP ERA
    Medlen 31 0 0 197.0 194 77 68 18 47 157 15 12 3.3 1.22 3.11
    Santana 32 0 0 211 190 85 76 26 51 161 9 10 2.9 1.14 3.24

    Santana pitched 8 years for the Los Angeles Angles before spending 2013 in Kansas City. In theory, the shift from the American League to the Senior Circuit should be a beneficial one. One less hitter in the opposing lineup to worry about. If you think of Santana as Kris Medlen’s replacement, it’s entirely possible that Medlen’s loss won’t be felt statistically.

    What about Beachy? 

    Losing Beachy to yet another season-ending injury was a big letdown. The team and its fans were certainly looking forward to what a healthy Brandon Beachy could add to this rotation. After all, he was leading the league in ERA when his arm gave out in 2012, prior to his first TJ surgery.  However, Beachy was absent for the vast majority of 2013 as well, so there is no real net loss from last year to this season.

    And Tim Hudson? 

    RHP Tim Hudson left via free agency over the winter after 9 seasons in ATL.

    RHP Tim Hudson walked away via free agency over the winter after 9 seasons in ATL.

    Hudson was a beloved Brave, and justifiably so. In addition to being a great teammate and charitable person, he hung a lot of “W’s” on the board for the team over his 9 seasons in Atlanta. Having said that, he will turn 39 years old this season. While Hudson was solid last season (8-7 with a 3.97 ERA in 21 starts), he wasn’t quite the ace he once was. And, of course, he missed the final 1/3 of the season due to a horrific ankle injury.

    The Braves don’t have to replace the top-end “Huddy” many fans remember. They have to replace 21 starts worth of the 2013 version of Tim Hudson. That’s doable with the parts the Braves have in hand.

    Here is how Braves pitching fared this Spring: 

    Player

    W

    L

    ERA

    G

    GS

    IP

    H

    ER

    HR

    BB

    SO

    AVG

    WHIP

     Avilan, L

    1

    0

    0.00

    7

    0

    7.2

    4

    0

    0

    3

    3

    .167

    0.91

     Wood, A

    2

    0

    0.45

    5

    5

    20.0

    17

    1

    0

    2

    16

    .236

    0.95

     Carpenter, D

    0

    0

    0.82

    11

    0

    11.0

    5

    1

    0

    1

    7

    .132

    0.55

     Teheran, J

    0

    1

    1.80

    6

    6

    25.0

    20

    5

    0

    4

    26

    .220

    0.96

     Schlosser, G

    0

    2

    2.03

    5

    2

    13.1

    7

    3

    0

    5

    13

    .152

    0.90

     Medlen, K

    0

    0

    2.08

    3

    3

    8.2

    6

    2

    0

    2

    6

    .194

    0.92

     Beachy, B

    1

    0

    2.70

    3

    3

    6.2

    7

    2

    0

    4

    3

    .269

    1.65

     Walden, J

    0

    1

    3.38

    8

    0

    8.0

    9

    3

    0

    2

    7

    .273

    1.38

     Kimbrel, C

    0

    0

    3.86

    10

    0

    9.1

    10

    4

    0

    5

    8

    .278

    1.61

     Santana, E

    1

    0

    5.40

    2

    2

    5.0

    6

    3

    0

    0

    1

    .316

    1.20

     Gearrin, C

    0

    0

    6.35

    12

    0

    11.1

    12

    8

    0

    3

    9

    .255

    1.32

     Hale, D

    0

    3

    6.62

    5

    5

    17.2

    26

    13

    0

    7

    13

    .333

    1.87

     Harang, A

    0

    1

    9.53

    1

    1

    5.2

    8

    6

    1

    1

    2

    .308

    1.59

     Varvaro, A

    0

    0

    9.82

    10

    0

    11.0

    20

    12

    0

    4

    7

    .400

    2.18

    We didn’t see much of Santana down in the Sunshine State, and we haven’t seen Minor or Floyd at all yet this year. However, as you can see from the numbers above, the two youngest members of the rotation, Alex Wood and Julio Teheran, gave fans plenty to be excited about.

    Atlanta’s relief corps wasn’t particularly sharp, but there is little doubt that the bullpen will once again be among the team’s strongest assets.

    BOTTOM LINE 

    PITCHING: No one should assume that Atlanta’s pitching won’t be what it was in 2013. Perhaps it won’t be as good. Maybe it will be even better. Only time will tell, but no assumption is safe here. The arms are here, given health and an up-tick in the Braves’ fortunes, for this pitching staff to remain one of baseball’s best.

    OFFENSE: What strikes me about this lineup is its upside. We surely have not yet tapped Andrelton Simmons’ offensive potential. And as good as Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton were last season, I know of no one who believes they aren’t capable of even more. Jason Heyward can certainly improve on last year’s numbers, and Dan Uggla & BJ Upton have nowhere to go but up. Evan Gattis is another young hitter with potential.

    There are 6 or 7 positions on the field from which the Braves could easily improve, offensively.  There are only 2 positions, 3B and C, at which one could argue the Braves might expect to slip a bit on offense. Barring substantial injury trouble in the lineup, I expect the 2014 Braves to outscore the 2013 squad.

    BOLD PREDICTION

    I’m going to part ways with most of the baseball punditry here. I believe the Braves should still be considered slight favorites in the NL East. My prediction: Braves win 95 games and win the division pennant by 3 games over the Washington Nationals.

    Of course, everything we discuss here today is ON PAPER. The great Yogi Berra once said “you can sum up baseball in 2 words: You never know.”

    There are 3 keys to winning: Talent, health and performance (playing up to potential, reasonably speaking). All I can tell you for certain is that a lack of talent won’t be the thing that sends the Braves packing in late September or early October.

    Kent Covington is a national radio news reporter and BravesWire Editor. Follow Kent on Twitter: @FriedbasballATL