13– Number of days until Opening Day
83,674– Number of signatures at www.budweiser.com/openingday to make Opening Day a National Holiday
Atlanta Braves Preview
After getting bounced from last year's National League Division Series by the Los Angeles Dodgers in four games, the Atlanta Braves did a whole lot of nothing for the next few months. Sure, there was the announcement involving a new stadium that will get the team out of downtown Atlanta, but otherwise the Braves were quiet for most of the offseason. Then, the calendar hit February and the Braves got aggressive as they were eager to lock up their young core. The Braves agreed to multi-year extensions with Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Julio Teheran, Craig Kimbrel, and Andrelton Simmons. By the time you read this, someone else may have signed a big contract too. With their young stars secure for the next half decade, the Braves will be annual front-runners in the National League East.
Key Additions: Ervin Santana, Ryan Doumit, Gavin Floyd
Key Departures: Brian McCann, Tim Hudson, Paul Maholm, Luis Ayala
OFFENSE: The Braves lived and died by the long ball in 2013. They led the National League with 181 home runs, but only hit two home runs in their ALDS loss to the Dodgers. Six players hit at least 20 homers, with left fielder Justin Upton's 27 home runs leading the way. Meanwhile, B.J. Upton was a huge bust as he hit just .184 in 446 plate appearances last year and was among one of the most disappointing players in all of baseball. The Braves will see some regression at the catcher position with the loss of Brian McCann who left for with the New York Yankees in the offseason.
STARTING PITCHING: A few weeks ago, the Braves starting rotation was one of their strengths in 2014. However, in the past two weeks, they have lost Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen, and Mike Minor to injuries. The Braves will be without Medlen for the entire season as he will undergo a second Tommy John surgery today. Beachy could also be heading to his second Tommy John surgery, but he is getting a second opinion this week in Los Angeles before making a final decision. Minor threw his first bullpen session yesterday and reported no issues after throwing a live batting practice since experiencing shoulder tightness. Julio Teheran will slot somewhere in the rotation, possibly as high as the #2 starter in an attempt to replicate his excellent rookie season. Ervin Santana was signed last week after the Braves learned of Medlen's injury. I have concerns about Santana pitching the majority of his starts in Turner Field. It is a launch pad and certainly could cause problems. Alex Wood and Gavin Floyd will be forced into the rotation as well and while Smith has the stuff to be a solid starter, I'm not sure he is a long-term solution at this point in his young career. The Braves always seem to have starting pitching depth in their system and they are certainly going to need to rely on it this year.
BULLPEN: Craig Kimbrel is the best closer in baseball, without any debate. Backing up Kimbrel you have a solid corps that includes David Carpenter and Luis Avilan. Keep in mind that lefty Jonny Venters should be in fighting shape for the second half. Venters is recovering from his second Tommy John surgery right now, but all indications are that he should return around the All-Star break. Don't be surprised if Jordan Walden emerges as the primary right-handed bridge to Kimbrel.
2014 Prediction: There were a lot of us, including myself that were too high on the Washington Nationals last year. The Nats, though, are a better team now and it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Braves hit hard by regression at third base and catcher. A second place finish is still a fair expectation, but unless the Braves can piece together their starting rotation during the season, they could certainly miss the second wild card spot.
Final Record: 82-80 (2nd Place NL East)