MILWAUKEE — Let me start with this: I walked into Miller Park at the same time as Julio Teheran and his arm was not in a sling. So at least one projected Braves’ starter made it to opening day healthy.
Is he ready? Is this team ready?
To quote manager Fredi Gonzalez, when asked how he felt about his team, “Good. Good. I feel good. Whether I do or not isn’t going to matter. The season opens on Monday. Here we go.”
It’s opening day in Milwaukee.
Why does it feel like the Braves already are in a hole?
From Gonzalez before the game when asked how he slept last night: “I slept like a baby. Slept three hours and woke up crying.”
He was joking. I think
Here are five story lines going into this series and this season:
1. Is Julio Teheran ready for this? I reference this in a MyAJC column linked here. But if Teheran, the unlikely opening day starter after season-ending injuries to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, can open the season with a strong outing, it would ease concerns about the team’s rotation. (At least, temporarily.) Teheran had a great rookie season (14-8, 3.20) but this is the most pressure he’ll face, other than in last year’s divisional playoff disaster in Los Angeles (six runs and eight hits in 2 2/3 innings of a 13-6 loss). Pitching coach Roger McDowell on Teheran: “He has great athleticism. He has that extra gear that he’s able to go to during the course of a game. He can pitch it 90-to-92, then go to 94-to-96 in a hurry. And he’s still learning. He has that quote/unquote potential (to be an ace) and tremendous drive.”
2. Who would you bet on: Uggla or Upton? Dan Uggla hit .179 last season. B.J. Upton hit .184. Will 2014 represent a bounce-back season for both or will it be more of the same? Given the uncertainty in the rotation, it seems safe to assume the team will need more offense, and therefore they’ll need more from Uggla and Upton. According to the online odds site Bovada, the over/under on Uggla’s batting average for this season is .220. The over/under for Upton: .230. Other over/unders: Freddie Freeman (.305, 25½ homers, 103½ RBIs); Jason Heyward (21½ HRs, 94½ RBIs); Justin Upton (.279, 26½ HRs); Evan Gattis (23½ HRs); Chris Johnson (.299); Julio Teheran (13½ wins); Mike Minor (13½ wins); Ervin Santana (9½ wins); Craig Kimbrel (46½ saves).
3. Can Heyward replicate 2013 (the healthy part)? Heyward — when he wasn’t sidelined because of a broken jaw (hit by a pitch) or an emergency appendectomy — saved the Braves last season with his performance as a leadoff hitter (.322). The Braves need that again because there’s no obvious replacement if something goes wrong. (Next options: Andrelton Simmons or Ramiro Pena, when he returns). The biggest question mark in the lineup: Upton batting second. But manager Fredi Gonzalez won’t hesitate to make changes if/when it’s necessary. Today’s lineup: Heyward (9), B.J. Upton (8), Freeman (3), Chris Johnson (5), Justin Upton (7), Uggla (4), Evan Gattis (2), Simmons (6), Teheran (1).
4. Is Gattis ready to take over? The bigger question is not whether he can follow-up on his offensive miracle moments of a year ago but whether he is ready to take over as the starting catcher, after the free agency departure of Brian McCann. We can debate whether the organization really believes he’s ready for this or if the McCann decision was based solely on economics. At the very least, they team needs a potential bridge for prospect Christian Bethancourt. The absence of Medlen and Beachy and the fact three young pitchers (Teheran, Alex Wood, David Hale) all are in the early four-man rotation puts even more pressure on Gattis’s performance behind the plate.
5. Will Ryan Braun face plant? I’ll finish with this just because the Braves open against Milwaukee. Serial liar and PED-user Ryan Braun returns from a 65-game suspension. He has never really showed remorse for his actions and many probably won’t forgive him. But if he continues to hit home runs as a “clean” player, expect him to be embraced as a conquering hero in Milwaukee, even if he’s booed elsewhere (similar to Barry Bonds when he was in San Francisco). The big question is whether Braun can replicate the numbers he put up as an MVP in 2011 (.332, 33, 111) and MVP runner-up in 2012 (.319, 41, 112). Personally, I’d be fine if he hits .118. I’m not big on liars and cheaters.
OK, that’s it for now. I’ll be here during the game if you want to chat, old live-blog style.