The Atlanta Braves will be one of the more intriguing teams in 2014, especially when keeping in mind that they lack a true ace on the pitching staff and a true superstar on offense.
The Braves won 96 games last year en route to the second best record in the National League and the NL East Division title. Dumped out in the divisional round of the playoffs by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta’s season ended in utter disappointment. But what they managed to accomplish in 2013 was somewhat unexpected (though not quite as bewildering as the struggles of the Washington Nationals).
The team was incredibly young and suffered a plethora of injuries, some of which should have proved crippling – Brian McCann’s six-week stint on the disabled list at the beginning of the year and Tim Hudson’s season-ending broken ankle against the New York Mets on July 24, among them. But with youth comes resiliency, and often an incredible desire to win.
The Braves’ young squad just kept on winning. The pitching staff was arguably the best in baseball (the bullpen a full head above the rest with a season ERA of 2.46), and the offense managed to be surprisingly productive despite sub-.200 batting averages from both Dan Uggla and BJ Upton (not to mention posting the third most team strikeouts in MLB). Atlanta had no legitimate ace on its pitching staff, and no Miguel Cabrera-esque presence in the lineup. Freddie Freeman had an incredible year, batting .319 with 23 HR and 109 RBI, and Chris Johnson exceeded everyone’s expectations by finishing second in the National League batting title race with a .321 BA.
Johnson won’t be expected to repeat his production in 2014, but there is no reason to expect Freeman will see a drop-off. Alongside him, Jason Heyward should have a much better year, BJ Upton and Uggla could not possibly be worse, and Justin Upton should (hopefully) have a bit more consistency. The pitching staff should also continue to improve. With another year of experience under their belts, the Braves’ young hurlers should be even better than last season when they posted a league-best 3.18 ERA.
Some are predicting fewer wins this season for the Braves than last, but I see no reason to believe they will take a step backward. A total of 100 wins is entirely possible for this team. One thing is certain: they will be exciting to watch in their quest to get back to the World Series.