A Betting Man's Guide: Atlanta Braves Preview
Atlanta Braves - Over/Under 87
If not for the Red Sox even more epic collapse, the Atlanta Braves would have been the whipping boy of the baseball offseason, but they somehow flew under the radar despite blowing a 10.5 game lead in a little over a month to end the 2011 season. Rather than give into the knee-jerk reaction to shake things up, and start passing out blame, the Braves pretty much did nothing. They licked their wounds, sucked it up, and are poised to erase the memory of a soiled 2011 campaign.
Positive Regression and Growth
The Braves had 89 wins last year even with that epic collapse. Also, with poor years (and BABIP's) from Heyward, Prado, and a miserable 60 or so games from Uggla, the offense should improve simply because of luck and regression to the mean. That doesn't even take into account the progression of Freddie Freeman into probably the best hitter on the team, and a full season of Michael Bourn filling the black hole that was the leadoff spot for the past two years. Their 22nd ranked offense should be better regardless, and could be top 10 should Heyward and Freeman really blossom into the perennial All-Stars their skill sets suggest.
Even if their offensive output increases a moderate amount, the Braves, like always, are set on the mound. The pitching staff, as a whole, was 4th in ERA and led the majors in strikeouts. With Hudson, Hanson, Beachy and Jurrjens locked into the rotation, the Braves still have high upside options for the fifth starter: be it youngsters Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, or the most-hyped of the trio, Julio Teheran. That doesn't even account for the bullpen, which had the best ERA and most strikeouts in baseball last year. The Braves sport arguably the best overall staff in baseball and as a whole are pretty young. This leaves room for improvement, and considering they were already at the top of the league, the Braves could leave NL East hitters muttering to themselves for most of the year.
I have a tough time seeing the Braves not getting to 90+ wins and challenging the Phillies. With the Phillies rotation, they will definitely be a viable contender for the World Series, but their offensive output decreased to 13th last year, and they actually scored less runs than the Mets. Their main guys are aging, Howard, Utley and Rollins are 32 or older, and Howard has a troubling Achilles injury. I actually think the Braves win the division and if their offense (Heyward and Freeman) improves enough, they could flirt with 100 wins.
Final record - 97-65