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Camp Underway!!! Predictions for 2011 MLB Season.

February 24, 2011 2 comments

 

Welcome Back Baseball. You have been missed.

 

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With rearranged pieces, health abound and a 0-0 mark that looks as good as any other in Major League Baseball, 30 MLB squads have broken ground in recent weeks, with dreams of capturing the 2011 World Series Title.

Ah, hope truly springs eternal in mid-February.

Count the healing, newly polished and reloading Atlanta Braves among the optimistic crowd – The Braves, circa 2011, are nearing the end of a second full week of camp and enter March with expectations of building on a playoff run one season ago.

With a new manager – for the first time since the James Madison administration I believe (1809-1817) – the Braves enter camp with upgraded pieces and a team that, for now, is healthy and capable of unseating an arch-rival.

That rival: The Philadelphia Phillies have dethroned the Braves as supreme power in the National League East in recent years – and like a bigger, stronger brother, held them in a head-lock since. The Phils increased their ‘Yankees-of-the-N.L’ reputation with the $120 million signing of coveted starting pitcher Cliff Lee in the offseason.

The addition inserts an ace and all-star into a formidable rotation already possessing three others – Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt.

(for the sake of time and space, other N.L. East teams will not be mentioned. Let’s face it, no others have a shot…. I know, I know… Hope springs eternal. Well, that only applies to fans of those teams. Which, I am not. Sorry Young Marlins.)

 

Without further adieu, I list my “What to Watch For” with the 2011 Atlanta Braves, and include a complete prediction (biased? Perhaps.) for the season.

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What to Watch For


1. Healthy, productive Chipper Jones (and Jair Jurrjens)??

Larry Wayne has turned into an habitual ‘what to watch for.’ The 38-year-old (soon to be 39) MVP third-baseman has battled injuries with some frequency in recent years, and will attempt to return from an August surgery to repair a torn anterior crucial ligament in his left knee – the same injury he suffered in 1994. Jones, who contemplated early retirement after at horrid first 40 games last season, returned to form, batting .296 with eight homers, 32 RBIs and a .487 slugging percentage in his last 55 games before the injury. He also had a .384 on-base percentage in that 55-game stretch. The veteran is confident he can again produce and expects to be in the Braves opening-day lineup March 31 at Washington.

Jurrjens, who is returning from knee surgery, entered camp 14 pounds slimmer this year and looks to rebound from an injury-ridden season that saw his numbers take a dramatic dip. The 25-year-old right-hander went 7-6 with a 4.74 ERA in 20 starts between injuries last year, after posting a 2.60 ERA in 34 starts in 2009.

 

2. New 2B / New LF (Sort of)

For years, Braves management has expressed an interest, and need, to fill a major void in the team’s lineup: Right-handed power. With the off-season acquisition of 30 year old, all star and silver slugger winner Dan Uggla, the mission was accomplished. Uggla has averaged nearly 31 home runs and 93 RBIs in five seasons, including career-highs of 33 homers and 105 RBIs last season. Uggla set career-highs in 2010 for batting average (.287), on-base percentage (.369) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.877). He would’ve led the Braves in homers, RBIs, slugging and OPS. Braves are hoping the Tennessee native can continue to produce the gaudy numbers that prompted management to sign him to a 5-year, $62 million contract extension. They are hoping too, that fielding trouble doesn’t follow Uggla to Atlanta.

Acquiring the All-Star second baseman means moving another. Martin Prado, who was selected to the National League All Star team in his first full season as a lineup regular, will be asked to move to left field in 2011 and anchor a position that has been a revolving door in recent seasons. Teammates rave about Prado – both his ability and drive. The Braves new outfielder hit .307 with career-highs of 40 doubles and 15 homers in 140 games last year. He is returning from a season-ending hip pointer injury incurred on September 27. Prado, who will also play third base in Chipper’s absence, has played outfield only sparingly in the majors and winter ball.

 

3. Will the Black Hole be closed?

Since the June 2009 trade bringing Nate McLouth, a 2008 All-Star and Gold Glove winner who produced  a national league-high 46 doubles, 26 homers and 94 RBIs that year, to Atlanta, the centerfield position has become abysmal (to be quite positive about it).  McLouth, 29, had a .298 on-base percentage, 24 RBIs and career-low .322 slugging percentage in 242 at-bats last season. The Michigan native has struggled to regain his swing and confidence, and even faced demotion to Triple-A Gwinnett a year ago. The Braves are hoping the once-promising talent can return to form in Atlanta. After being recalled Aug. 31, in his fourth game back, he began a 10-game tear that saw him go 11-for-30 (.367) with three doubles, a triple, three homers and 10 RBIs, with two other would-be homers taken away by catches above the fence.

If McLouth cannot regain what was once had, 24-year-old Jordan Schafer lies in wait as the Braves best hope. The youngster who impressed enough in 2009 to begin the season as Atlanta’s opening day centerfielder homered in his first and third major league games, and was 8-for-19 with four extra-base hits, three walks and six runs after five games. Then, the black hole sucked him up. A sore left hand, stemming from a swing he took in his home debut, would lead to Schafer hitting just .176 with no homers, five RBIs and 59 strikeouts in 148 at-bats over the next 45 games. Schafer has not played in the majors since. Two years later, after struggling through 2010, Schafer has regained strength in his hand, and by all accounts, returned to form in pre-season practices.


4. Towering Youngsters manning the Right Side

In the arms of two of the majors youngest talents can be found enormous power. The Braves are hoping that power translates to on-field production for their star youngsters Jason Heyward, RF, and Freddie Freeman, 1B. The towering roommates – Heyward, 21, stands at 6’5 and weighs in at 240 pounds; Freeman, 21, is also 6’5 and weighs 225 – are expected live up to enormous expectations as futures of a franchise.

The baseball world marveled at Heyward’s prodigious power and uncanny ability to get on base as a rookie in 2010. Heyward hit .277 with five triples, 18 homers, 72 RBIs and a .393 on-base percentage in 142 games last season. A thumb injury in May hampered the Henry County native’s production late in the year. With a healed thumb, the 2010 Rookie of the Year runner-up, and number one rated prospect according to Baseball America last year, could be in line for a monster season.

Young Freddie Freeman, though having never played a full season at the Major League level, stands to be Atlanta’s opening day first-baseman in 2011. The slick-fielding big-man hit .319 with 18 homers, 87 RBIs and a .378 OBP in 124 games last year at the Triple-A level. He was one of the youngest players in the International League, and was selected its rookie of the year. Freeman finds himself at No. 17 on Baseball America’s list of Top 100 Prospects in baseball for 2011. He netted four hits in 24 at-bats, including a homerun off Phillies’ Roy Halladay after a September call-up in 2010.

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This is dragging on SO….

PREDICTIONS!


National League:

East…………Phillies  (So want to put Atlanta here. But amazing pitching, still solid lineup)

Central…… Brewers (St. Louis lost their Ace… Give it to the Crew.)

West………..Dodgers (Not again San Fran.)

Wild Card.. Braves   (I really like this team when healthy)

 

— Phillies advance to NLCS by defeating the Dodgers

— Braves advance to NLCS by defeating the Brewers

BRAVES defeat Phillies in seven (Told you… Biased).

 

American League:

East…………Red Sox (A lot of things to like here. i.e. Adrian Gonzalez)

Central…… Twins     (Healthy Justin Morneau)

West………..Rangers  (Pitching has to hold up, to hold off the Angels)

Wild Card.. Yankees (Good enough for a Wild Card)

 

— Red Sox advance to ALCS by defeating the Rangers

— Twins advance to ALCS by defeating the Yankees

 

RED SOX defeat Twins in five.

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******* BRAVES win World Series ****************

(in my defense, this is a Braves blog)

 

 

Hopefully a scene similar occurs in 2011

 

 

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