2014 NL East Preview And Predictions

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Mar 2, 2014; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves first baseman

Freddie Freeman

(5) swings the bat during the sixth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

2) Atlanta Braves: 85-77 (Wild-Card)

I grew up a Braves fan, but I have always felt I could take off the fan goggles when evaluating the team. They lost key free agents and did virtually nothing to replace them.

1- Why will this team exceed expectations?

Fred Owens of Tomahawk Take: The Braves will once again live and die with their pitching. Last season they rode their starting rotation and bullpen to wins when the lineup didn’t show up. While they don’t have a true top of the rotation arm yet, Mike Minor sure looked like one over the last season and a half.

Julio Teheran had a 17-game stretch midseason where he struck out 106 in 107 1/3 and pitched to a 2.34 ERA. Many feel he’s poised to take another step forward this year. Kris Medlen will provide a 200 inning 3.30 ERA season.

Healthy at last, Brandon Beachy will return to his 2011 form, Alex Wood will continue to grow as a major league starter while Gavin Floyd and David Hale will provide innings of solid pitching at the back of the rotation.

The bullpen features the best closer in baseball and a variety of arms creating a solid bridge to Craig Kimbrel. Speaking of the best, MLB’s best defensive shortstop Andrelton Simmons, will improve offensively, and the best right fielder in MLB – a healthy Jason Heyward – will generate runs at the top of the order and save them in right field with his glove.

Chris Johnson will prove last year was not a fluke by continuing to send line drives to all parts of the field.

2- Why will this team fall short of expectations?

Inconsistency. The Braves were a streaky, strikeout riddled offensive team last year. They tied with the Mets for most strikeouts (1384), 200 more than all other challenging teams except for the Pirates.

Many of these came from Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton who were black holes in the lineup where pitchers could go for guaranteed outs. As a result they were shutout 17 times last year, only the Marlins (18) were shut out more often and none of the other top clubs were close to that number.

Their main competitors in the East – the Nationals – had an injury plagued season that they are unlikely to repeat that while the Marlins, Mets and Phillies all improved.

If the lineup isn’t more consistent and the rotation doesn’t remain near the top in ERA and innings, the Braves will struggle to keep pace.

3- Look for the team to make (this trade)

Barring injury I’m not sure the Braves will make a trade. While some here at Tomahawk Take think they will look for a top of the rotation impact arm, there aren’t that many out there and GM Frank Wren hasn’t found sufficient value in any trade or it would have been made by now.

They have depth in the infield and outfield and the contracts they would like to move are not moveable. If a trade is made it will be something no one saw coming and if I have to prognosticate it will be a star no one expects for a player no one thought would be available.

4- Watch out for the emergence of (prospect)

The two names hear most often in our discussions are Tommy LaStella and Christian Bethancourt. If Uggla continues to struggle offensively you could see LaStella by the All-Star break.

LaStella’s fielding isn’t spectacular but he hits line drives and could well be the guy. Some here see Bethancourt sneaking into the lineup and staying but I think that’s unlikely with Evan Gattis’ power safely in the starting role and Gerald Laird an experienced backup.

Injury could of course change that.  Personally I think it’ll be a pitcher like David Hale stepping into a starting slot due to injury and proving himself as a back of the rotation starter.