Tag Archives: Braves

MLB Opening Day Preview

The grass is cut. The infield is raked. Opening Day 2015 will officially be here on Sunday, April 5. The tedious month of drills and meaningless games finally are finishing up and America’s Pastime will be in full swing. As you flock to the ballpark or to your couch for opening day, it’s important to make sure you’re up to date with all the shuffling of players and changes that occurred during the long offseason. Here is a quick preview and some storylines you will need to know as the first pitch quickly approaches.

The Atlanta Braves have undergone a major overhaul led by new General Manager Jon Hart after Frank Wren was shown the door after the Braves woefully under-performed in the second half of the season. Gone are fan favorites Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis and Ervin Santana. Say hello to Shelby Miller, Jonny Gomes and native-son Nick Markakis who starred at Woodstock High School. Another big change is the name of Atlanta’s most despised player, Melvin Upton Jr. B.J. Upton decided to change his name and hopefully change his success at the plate after hitting .208 and taking the brunt of Braves’ fans’ criticism.

All signs point to it being a very long year for Atlanta. Hart has decided to build a farm system which Frank Wren left in shambles. The present day product will suffer greatly, but Hart has an eye towards 2017 and the opening of SunTrust Park. By that time the gamble Hart made by trading away his top players for prospects will need to pay off as the Braves will try to reap the benefits and open up their new park with a bang and a slew of young talented players.

As far as this season goes, expect the Braves to hover around 68-72 wins. Make no bones about it, this is a rebuilding year and fans will need to be patient. The NL East has gotten considerably stronger and the Braves will have to patiently wait for their prospects to develop.

NL East

            The sexy pick to win the division is Washington with its pitching staff headed by the $210-million dollar man, Max Scherzer. He teams up with Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister to form the deepest rotation in baseball. Behind Washington, the New York Mets and Miami Marlins will push hard to make the playoffs. The Mets have looked great in spring training and hold the best record in the Grapefruit League. Michael Cuddyer has hit extremely well and new hitting coach Kevin Long has already seemingly made an impact on the likes of Curtis Granderson and Juan Lagares who look crisp at the plate. Injuries, which have plagued the Mets for years, have already begun to bite them with Zack Wheeler and Josh Edgin going down with tommy john surgery along with Daniel Murphy, and Vic Black ailing. The Marlins have a young exciting team led by Giancarlo Stanton. If he can receive protection in the lineup and the young pitching staff can produce, Miami should be in the hunt for a wildcard spot.

NL Central

            The Cardinals and Pirates have owned the division lately, but the laughing stock Chicago Cubs may get the last laugh this year. GM Theo Epstein has opened up the checkbook signing Jon Lester and anointing Joe Maddon as manager. The Cubs are oozing with uber-talented young hitters. Kris Bryant smashed nine homers to lead all players in spring training but unceremoniously was sent down along with Javier Baez in order to save another year of control down the line. If those two along with Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler and Starling Castro hit like they are capable, the Cubs very well may challenge to make the postseason coming out of a difficult division.

            NL West

The defending World Series champs, the San Francisco Giants, will be without the lovable Kung Fu Panda, Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval was poached by the free spending Boston Red Sox this offseason. It may be difficult to repeat with the Dodgers and the suddenly intriguing Padres in the mix for a playoff berth. New San Diego GM A.J. Preller made waves wheeling and dealing as if the MLB was his personal video game. Though they still play in Petco Park, the additions of Justin Upton, Wil Myers and Matt Kemp make the Padres’ outfield one of the most exciting in baseball. Add in James Shields as an ace, and things look bright in sunny San Diego.

AL East

Baltimore will try to improve upon a 96-win season, but it will be difficult with the improvements of Boston and Toronto. The Red Sox signed Hanley Ramirez away from the Dodgers and will plug him in leftfield for the first time in his career. Pablo Sandoval is the Sox’s top signing this offseason, but they also landed prized Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada, a 19-year-old infielder who will join Boston’s minor league system. The Blue Jays added great veteran leadership in Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson.

AL Central

The Tigers won the division, but the Royals stole the spotlight in the postseason.  Detroit has lost Max Scherzer, but David Price assumes the role as ace in his first full season in the Motor City. Rick Porcello was dealt for slugging Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes who will provide a cannon arm and great pop. The Royals will have plenty of new faces. James Shields is gone from the top of the rotation, and big Billy Butler has departed also. Alex Rios and Edinson Volquez will try to fill in at their respective positions.

AL West

            Moneyball is alive with A’s GM Billy Beane. Questionable trades backfired last season, but the gambling genius has not gotten gun-shy. Ben Zobrist, Brett Lawrie, and Ike Davis have been brought in. Billy Butler will take over the DH role. Seattle is a team ready to make the next step. Nelson Cruz brings his 40+ homerun power and will team up with Robison Cano to provide offense for a strong pitching staff.

Pre-Spring Training NL East Division Preview

Georgia might have just had another scare with potential snow and ice storms, but spring is in our midst and with that Spring Training is right around the corner. Pitchers and Catchers are set to report by the end of this week, while many players have already come to camp early to break off the rust and start getting their bodies back in game shape. Each spring teams enter training camp with optimism and aspirations of winning the World Series. I will be heading down to Florida to check out some Spring Training action for the first time this year. I will be attending Bradenton (Pirates) and Port St. Lucie (Mets), two teams that are primed to make the post season. With that being said, let’s take an early look at the National League East and how I think things will stack up this season.

Washington Nationals

Last year’s porous division now looks to be one of the toughest, with three of the projected top teams all having realistic sights on the playoffs. The Nationals are seemingly the new trendy pick and are 5:1 favorites to win the World Series this year after making moves that brought in Max Scherzer and Yunel Escobar. Washington has a rotation loaded with power arms, but its bullpen will need retooling. Tyler Clippard was shipped off for Escobar and Rafael Soriano is currently a free agent. Drew Storen will likely return as the closer, a full time job he had back in 2011 when he saved 43 games. While they may be the most talented team in the division, I doubt they will completely run away with it.

New York Mets

The Mets have the best young top three pitching trio in the MLB with Matt Harvey-Jacob deGrom-Zack Wheeler. Their pitching staff will be one of the strongest in the league, but questions loom on whether David Wright can ever return to the player he once was. The fences have been moved in yet again and should benefit Curtis Granderson and Lucas Duda who emerged as the Mets’ number one long ball threat last year. If Wright, Granderson, and Michael Cuddyer can produce close to what their career averages are, then the Mets should be battling for the division and wild card all season long.

Miami Marlins

As they seemingly do every offseason, the Marlins have shaken their roster up like a snow globe. Mat Latos and Dan Haren give the Marlins some much needed veteran leadership atop of their young rotation that hopes to get young ace Jose Fernandez back sooner rather than later from Tommy John surgery. The addition of Dee Gordon who had a career year last season will give them speed to burn. Veteran Martin Prado was brought in to do what he always does—hit. Michael Morse should shore up first base if he can find a way to stay healthy. Miami has had strong teams on paper in the past, but they have never been able to create that type of success on the field. Now in his third year as manager, Mike Redmond will try to sneak the fish back into the postseason where they have made magic happen.

Atlanta Braves

No team in the MLB has torn down the walls as much as new GM John Hart has after the Braves decided to clean house. Atlanta has tried to replenish its beleaguered farm system and has done a decent job so far. Craig Kimbrel has been whispered to be the next one on the move. It should be a long painful season as ownership eyes 2017; the good thing for Atlanta is that Philadelphia is in the same division.

Philadelphia Phillies

No franchise has been more mismanaged in the past five years than this one. A blind loyalty to aging stars who no longer produce has crippled the franchise along with a weak farm system. Year-in and year-out, Ruben Amaro has had a chance to flip Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels for young players, but he has sat on his assets and continues to depreciate their value. Unlike the Braves, there is no light at the end of this tunnel just yet.

Atlanta New Year’s Resolutions

This Thursday marks the start of a fresh year, 2015. It’s a chance for everyone to start anew and hope for a bigger and even better year. Each year people decide to make New Year’s resolutions because it is the popular thing to do and it gives you a goal to strive for if not in the long run, at least for the first few weeks (like getting in shape). Though many resolutions go to the wayside after the first month or so, I still think it is important to set some goals and resolutions to better ourselves. The resolutions I will put forth will not be for me, but for some Atlanta teams moving forward. Out with the old and in with the new, it’s time for some local teams to make some promises and to bring forth some change in 2015.

Atlanta Falcons

            Black Monday has brought the axing of Mike Smith after seven successful seasons and a 66-46 record in the regular season. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a 34-3 blowout loss at home which sealed the Falcons postseason fate along with Smith’s. Though he was Atlanta’s winningest coach in franchise history, his inability to win in the postseason (1-4) and his 1-14 record against winning teams the past two seasons was enough for Arthur Blank to make the switch. Atlanta’s New Year resolution should be to hire a defensive-minded coach and allow him to rebuild one of the league’s worst defenses.

The Falcons have always had the fire power on offense, but it has been their faulty defense that has done them in. The past two seasons they have finished 27th in the league in points allowed; too much for the offense to overcome. There have been some questionable moves including letting Brent Grimes, Thomas DeCoud, and John Abraham go too soon. The makeshift defense did the best they could but too many holes remained. Bringing in a defensive-minded coach would allow the team to put in better schemes and hopefully bring aboard some high quality players. The trio of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Roddy White seemingly should be able to function with any coach or coordinator. Recently fired Rex Ryan went to back-to-back AFC Conference Championship games with Mark Sanchez as his quarterback – yes, Mark Sanchez. Give Rex the weapons Atlanta has on offense, and allow him to run the defense and the Falcons might be in good shape sooner rather than later.

Atlanta Braves

            My resolution for Atlanta is to keep doing what they are doing and be patient. Continue to build the farm system and look forward to the opening of SunTrust Park in 2017. The NL East has gotten considerably tougher and it is the right move to blow things up and punt on the upcoming seasons. The cupboard was bare when John Hart took over, but he is now starting to add pieces to the farm and hopefully be able to reap the benefits in three to four years. It will be tough for fans to suffer through 70-75 win seasons, but they have to remember that it is a marathon, not a sprint and that good things will come in the future.

Atlanta Hawks

At 22-8, the Hawks are tied for the fourth best record in the NBA. Their resolution should be to make it to the conference finals. Atlanta has made the postseason in seven consecutive seasons and look to be a lock again for this year; however, the Hawks have lost in the first round three straight years before losing in the second round three years in a row before that.  As the story goes for all Atlanta teams, getting over the postseason hump is the most difficult thing to do. This could be Atlanta’s year with the East being watered down and the Cavaliers struggling to become dominant. The Hawks have been Atlanta’s most consistent team this past decade but you would never guess it by the lack of support. It’s time for the Hawks to take ahold of Atlanta and officially become the city’s number one team.

As with all resolutions, only time will tell if they will come to fruition or not. I wish everyone a safe and happy New Years and I will see you next year!

A Year in Review

As we close the books and flip the calendar on the year 2014, its time to recap some of the highlights and lowlights of our local teams this past year. In 2014 we saw the colossal downfall of the Braves, the scintillating start of the season for the Hawks, the surprise year of the Yellow Jackets, and the injury-plagued season of the Falcons. I’m here to handout grades this year and give you my perspective of the 2014 season.

Atlanta Braves

Atlanta started out the 2013-14 season strong and led the NL East for a majority of the first half, with a 52-43 record. However, the wheels fell off in the second half and heads began to roll. The Braves sputtered to 27-40 and finished tied for second place with the New York Mets at 79-83. It all went wrong with the putrid Atlanta offense which finished second-worst in the entire MLB. They averaged just over three runs a game in the second half and were left searching for answers. Greg Walker walked away from the hitting coach position after the season so he could leave on his own terms instead of being fired. This was just the beginning of the shakeup.  General Manager Frank Wren was fired after seven years at the helm of the Braves. John Hart has now taken over the team and has torn it all down trading away the beloved Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and cut ties with Jonny Venters and Kris Medlen. Hart recognized the Braves were not going anywhere with their current roster and instead decided to bolster one of the league’s weakest farm systems. It may hurt now Braves fans, but you are in a better position today to win a title than you were four months ago. Grade: C+

Atlanta Falcons

            Maybe no team has suffered more injuries specifically to their offensive line than the Falcons have this year. In most seasons, a 6-9 record would have teams doing major research on their draft board, but the NFC South has been so bad this year the Falcons have a shot to make the playoffs at 7-9 if they beat the Panthers next week. As nice as it is to say that you made the playoffs, let’s not kid ourselves. It has been another disastrous season for the Falcons and now reports have leaked out that Head Coach Mike Smith will not make it to the 2015 season. The offense has been solid but the Atlanta defense has been one of the worst in the league. The once feared Georgia Dome has lost its home field advantage along with the Saints and their Superdome. Of course it never hurts to make the playoffs, but in the grand scheme of things it’s just another banner hanging in the rafters, not a ring on the players’ fingers. Grade: C

Atlanta Hawks

            If someone told you at the beginning of the year that the Hawks would be Atlanta’s best hope at a championship team, you probably wouldn’t believe them, but alas, here we are and the Hawks have been mightily impressive this season with a 19-7 record and their longest winning streak in over a decade. Coach Budenholzer has instilled a winning philosophy and a defensive minded unit. Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap anchor the team while Kyle Korver is having the best shooting season in history, slashing 51/53/96. Though the season is only a quarter of the way through, Atlanta has shown no signs of slowing down in the weak Eastern Conference and may be a dark horse to emerge from the East. Grade thus far: A

Georgia Tech

Seemingly on his death bed as head coach at Tech, Paul Johnson needed a big season to stick around and boy did he get it. A 10-3 season with a win over UGA was enough for PJ to secure a four-year extension with the Ramblin’ Wreck. An Orange Bowl berth against Mississippi State will end a successful season. Grade: A

Till Next Year

It has been a year full of ups and downs for our local teams. 2015 will surely produce more memorable moments, but until then, Happy Holidays and have a safe and Happy New Year!