Before I begin, I want to thank Matt (Brave in New York) for all of his great work. His blog has been a source of insight and entertainment, especially since I share his position as a Braves fan living in the Empire State. Almost all of my friends are Yankees fans (I’m even engaged to marry one!) and they love to quiz me on the outcomes of the ’96 and ’99 World Series. But those games are all in the past, and now we have a brand new, exciting season ahead of us. Without further ado, here are my twelve bold predictions for the 2012 season.
1) The Braves will be a 500 team against the Phillies. The Phils are getting a lot of love, and many analysts are picking them to repeat as NL East champs. However, they have some issues to sort out, mainly how to fill the middle of their lineup while Utley and Howard are injured. Hopefully, by the first meeting between these two clubs on the first of May, the Braves will be in tip-top shape, whereas those two Philly stars might not be 100% for the entire season. I’m not saying that the Braves will finish ahead of the Phillies in the standings, just that they will split their head-to-head matchups.
2) Tommy Hanson will win 20 games. He’s got a new delivery that is designed to relieve shoulder stress, which should allow him to pitch more innings and stay off the DL. And in his last start, he unveiled a powerful sinker that can really add depth to his arsenal. I expect Hanson to be revitalized in 2012. The Braves haven’t had a twenty game winner since (drum roll please) Russ Ortiz went 21-7 way back in 2003, but if O’Flaherty, Venters, and Kimbrel can close out games the way they did last year, all Hanson will need to rack up the wins is a little run support. Is that too much to ask for? Wait. Don’t answer that.
3) Jason Heyward will not hit a homerun in his first at-bat. This may not seem like a bold prediction, but if you’ve watched our last two opening day games, you know J-Hey has hit homeruns in 100% of his season opening at-bats. He won’t homer in his first look this year, but he’ll have a more balanced, successful season at the dish.
4) Livan Hernandez will have a stint on the DL this season. The 16-season veteran has never been on the DL. Also, he’s never played for the Braves. I think signing him was a good move, because it cost less than a million bucks, and keeping a veteran around a clubhouse full of young pitchers is never a bad idea. However, Atlanta seems to be infested with the injury bug, and I won’t be surprised to see it take a bite out of Livan.
5) Chipper Jones will hit 30 homeruns. I know, I know, he’s a fragile old man. Fans cringe every time he bends over to tie his cleats. But here’s what I think: as long as he doesn’t rush his return from the meniscus tear, and he gets enough scheduled days off to stay well rested, Chipper will provide the bleachers with plenty of souvenir balls. As I’m sure Chipper knows, the long ball comes with an added advantage: you don’t have to run so fast around the bases.
6) The Nationals will pose a bigger threat than the Marlins. The Marlins have a new city, some cool new hats, and the added talents of Jose Reyes, but the Nats are improving as well, even if it’s under the radar. Their rotation is pretty solid, led by Strasburg and Gino Gonzalez. Plus, I can’t imagine Jayson Werth batting .232 with 58 RBIs again.
7) The National League will win the All-Star Game for the third consecutive year. I’m sure you all remember Brian McCann’s three-run double in the 2010 all-star game. That game ended a huge winning streak for the AL, and now the NL is going to build a streak of its own.
8.) Mike Minor will be a strong 4th starter. I’m not going to venture any guesses as to an ERA or wins, but Minor will be an asset to the team. He’s super confident, and I expect that confidence to transfer to success on the mound. This season is his chance to prove his worth, and he knows it.
9) Larry Parrish will not be Atlanta’s hitting coach. Okay, this is just a fact, but I’m so happy about it. I feel like we paid Larry Parrish to put his feet up and watch our offense drown last year. Hopefully Greg Walker (our new hitting coach) will give our bats some mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Figuratively speaking, of course.
10) Juan Francisco will have an immediate impact. Chipper Jones will probably play between 100 and 125 games this season, leaving plenty of action for Atlanta’s new backup 3rd basemen. The report on Francisco is that he’s a free swinger and that he hits with power, which, if nothing else, sounds really exciting. Look for him to impress crowds and intimidate pitchers with a few deep homers.
11) Brian McCann will win a fifth consecutive Silver Slugger. And if that’s not bold enough, when he retires he’ll have broken Mike Pizza’s record for most Silver Sluggers as a catcher (10), even if he doesn’t do it all with the Bravos.
12) The Braves will win 94 games. It will take a lot of one-run wins, production from bench players like Eric Hinske, and good pitching in tight spots from our bullpen, but they can do it. Will that be enough to make the playoffs? I think so, even if it is only the extra wild card spot.
Have some bold predictions of your own? Leave them in the comments, and feel free to follow me on Twitter @thomasmduncan.