Is it just me, or does the 2014 season feel like the dawn of a new era for the MLB? New rules are in place to deter collisions at home plate, instant replay has been expanded, Cox, Torre, and La Russa are being inducted into the hall, Barry Bonds is back in the baseball, and A-rod gets to watch it all from the corner where he has been sentenced to time out. For Braves Country, the shift is even greater, with the end of Turner Field and the move to Cobb County on the horizon. Departures, extensions, heartbreaking injuries, payroll on the loose–the offseason has been anything but dull. All this excitement has me hungry for opening day. What do you mean I missed it? Australia? A Cricket Ground? 4am EST? Yeah, right.
1) Julio Teheran will lead Braves starters in wins, ERA, and WHIP. A lot of pressure rests on T-rex’s shoulders, with Medlen and Beachy out for the year, and Minor on the mend. He posted a 14-8 record in 2013, with a 3.20 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. I expect him to improve in each category, and to emerge as genuine ace in 2014.
2) BJ Upton will return to form. Bossman Junior’s poor showing last year was a major disappointment, and it had analysts calling his FA signing one of the worst in baseball history. His spring has been far from stellar, but BJ has been working with Greg Walker on a new approach at the plate. He may sputter through the spring and even start the season slow, but I expect these adjustments to pay off in the long run. Also, rumor has it that he will begin the season batting second in the lineup, behind J-Hey, which shows the level of confidence Fredi Gonzalez has in his center fielder. For the record, I’m not predicting a career season. A return to form for BJ is something like a .245/.310/.400.
3) Craig Kimbrel will have his best year yet. Having signed a four-year extension, the Craig Machine must be feeling pretty comfortable in the pen. His 50 saves last season were a career best, and he ranked fourth in NL Cy Young votes. To have a successful 2014 campaign, we need Kimbrel to be that anchor he has been for the last three years. If the Braves hand him 55 save opportunities, there’s no doubt in my mind that he will top his 2013 saves total.
4) The Phillies will finish 4th in the division. They are old, disgruntled, battered and bruised. Twenty-fourteen will not be a pretty year for our friends in Philly. I want to put them last in the NL East, but the Marlins are a whole new level of awful. (Poor Giancarlo Stanton).
5) The Braves will have a winning record against the Nats. Last season, it was no contest. We took 13 of 19 against Washington, securing our slot atop the NL East. This year, the concern is that we will lose ground early on while we work with a rag-tag rotation, especially with six games against the Nationals in April. However, it’s important to remember that the Nationals are in recovery mode, too, although not as seriously as Atlanta. Their big offseason acquisition, Doug Fister, is dealing with elbow inflammation, and golden boy Bryce Harper is coming back from knee surgery. If we can at least split those first two series, we’ll end the season with a winning record against Washington.
6) The NL will win the All-Star Game. Because I truly believe this every year for no real reason.
7) J-Hey will have the most HRs of any leadoff hitter in 2014. His ability to hit to all parts of the field, steal bases, and score runs is what makes Heyward a dynamic leadoff hitter, but those tape-measure homers make it impossible to forget his power swing. In his last full season, J-Hey hit 27 HRs. If he can stay healthy, there’s no reason to believe he won’t best that this year.
8) Instant replay will cost the Braves a win or two. That just seems to be our kind of luck. Plus, the new rules are complicated. Most of the fans don’t understand them perfectly (myself included). Some of the players and managers aren’t even clear on all the details. My guess–there’s going to be a lot of hooting and hollering, some snags in the system here and there, but most of the kinks will be worked out by the end of the season.
9) Uggla will not be the starting 2nd basemen after the All-Star break. Sorry, Dan. I know you read my blog, and I appreciate all your hard work. Be it through trade, FA signing, or just a reworking of the depth chart, I expect Uggla to be ousted by the halfway point.
10) Ervin Santana will thrive in the NL. He made the right decision, signing with the Braves for one year. He’s in a pitcher-friendly division in a pitcher-friendly league with a formidable defense at his back. This is the time for him to prove his is worth a big, multi-year contract, and what better place to do it that Turner Field? His signing was also the right decision for the Braves. There’s a lot of concern around Santana, especially around his right elbow, and if he winds up being a bust, we’re only stuck with him for one season. I see him earning fifteen wins this season, which is pretty close to his ceiling.
11) Simba will win another Gold Glove. Does this even count as a prediction? It’s a fact.
12) Freeman will lead the club in HRs, RBIs, and AVG. There’s no indication that he can’t repeat his killer performance from 2013, especially if Heyward and BJ both hit well ahead of him. I see another 100 RBI season, as well as 30 HRs, and an average above .300.
13) The Mets will have a winning record. And if they had Matt Harvey, they would be a playoff contender. Without him, they are stuck in the no-man’s-land of third place. Think 82 wins.
14) Braves will win 92. Second place in the East (*sigh*), first wildcard spot. The loss of Medlen and Beachy definitely puts a big hurdle before us, but if our bats get hot at the right time and our makeshift rotation keeps it together, there’s no reason we can’t make a deep playoff run. It’s certainly going to be a tough season, ripe with close games and tight races. What more can we ask for?
Have some bold predictions of your own? Share them in the comments below, and follow me on twitter @ThomasMDuncan.