You’ve probably noticed that phrases like “pennant contender” and “World Series darkhorse”and “Washington could be in trouble in the East” are missing from Braves’ forecasts. Most sports handicappers have the team winning about 73 games, or losing about 89, depend on your glass half-full/empty perspective.
That seems about right. I can’t say anything that happened in spring training made me think, “Wow! Let me re-evaluate.” But I’m guessing like everybody else.
But until now, I hadn’t seen a set of predictions that stated the Braves were the second-worst team in baseball. That’s the estimation of ESPN’s Buster Olney, who’s probably the best baseball writer in the nation.
In a column on ESPN’s “Insider” section, Olney ranks all 30 major league teams, with very brief analysis. The Braves are ranked 29th, ahead of only Philadelphia. So there’s your bright spot: He doesn’t think the Braves will finish last in the National League East.
I’ve excerpted Olney’s piece, with his projected top five teams overall and all five teams from the N.L. East:
1. Washington Nationals: The Nationals will have a relatively significant list of injuries to start the season with Denard Span down, and perhaps Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth. But their rotation is intact, and that’s what matters most.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers: Their bullpen issues will be acute at the outset of the season, and Don Mattingly may be scrambling for solutions until Kenley Jansen returns from the disabled list. With Hyun-Jin Ryu down, L.A. is thin in its rotation depth, in theoretical starters Nos. 6-8. But the rest of the team has rounded into form.
3. Seattle Mariners: The Mariners should have a much deeper lineup, not only with the addition of Nelson Cruz but also with the outfield platoon options they have developed.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen appears to be a go for the start of the season, and that is what matters most.
5. St. Louis Cardinals: The rotation was the biggest question mark going into spring training, and it looks like all is good. Jason Heyward has been working on his hitting mechanics since early spring, trying to put himself in a position to be more free-flowing in his movement, and soon the Cardinals will see how that work translates in games.
7. Miami Marlins: Folks with other teams wondered at the outset of spring training how Giancarlo Stanton would react on pitches inside, in his first action after being hit in the face by a Mike Fiers fastball last spring. Well, so far, so good: He’s got five doubles, three homers and 11 RBIs in his first 40 at-bats of spring.
16. New York Mets: Matt Harvey has been a spring beast and Michael Cuddyer looks great, and if this team starts well, it’ll be really interesting to see whether ownership steps up and makes an aggressive offer for Troy Tulowitzki or some other needed piece.
29. Atlanta Braves: The Braves need time, now that they’ve reconstructed their roster with an eye toward 2017 and the opening of their new ballpark, and they also need the players acquired in their offseason trades to translate. As the Oakland Athletics have shown, it’s one thing to go through a roster turnover, but a different matter entirely in picking the right players.
30. Philadelphia Phillies: They need more talent. Lots of it. Which is why the front office must hope and pray that Cole Hamels — the organization’s most valuable commodity — remains healthy and successful for the next few months so it can flip him for a lump of talent.
Do you agree with Olney’s assessment? I’ve added a poll to the blog. Check whether you believe the Braves’ will rank among the best five records in the majors, sixth to 10th, etc.
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