On the eve of Opening Day for MLB, every fan has a glimmer of hope, no matter how small, that this may be their team’s year. For some teams, those hopes are up in smoke before they know it, but for others, hope is never gone until the playoffs arrive.
For the Atlanta Braves, they hope to continue their success that began in 2013. Their pitching staff is in disarray, but the batting order looks quite similar and they hope to score enough runs to make up for the possibly less-than-good pitching.
For the lineup, the catalyst for the Braves is definitely Jason Heyward. 2013 left the team searching for a leadoff hitter when B.J. Upton and Andrelton Simmons didn’t work out in the position. Then, when manager Fredi Gonzalez placed Heyward in the No. 1 slot of the lineup, wonderful things happened.
It proved to be a good move for Heyward. While he hit for a .226 average with a .330 OPB in the No. 2 spot, he hit .322 with a .403 on-base percentage at leadoff. He only attempted one stolen base from the leadoff spot and was thrown out, but his time at that position was interrupted when he was hit in the jaw by a pitch and missed over a month of play.
In the pitching staff, the most important guy to get the season off to a good start has to be Alex Wood. He only started 11 games in his rookie campaign, but he will definitely be asked to make 2014 a full season in the rotation. An interesting stat is that nine of those 11 starts came against NL East opponents in 2013. In those games, he was 1-2 while pitching 43.1 innings and giving up 19 earned runs (15 of those coming from three games).
It was clear that for most of the season, Wood had guys on their heels at the plate; if he can locate his fastball with the good velocity that the Braves know he has, he might make a name for himself in 2014.
For the Braves to succeed, it’s clear that the whole team needs to put it together, however, if Heyward performs at the level that we know he can in the leadoff spot and Wood can be a true No. 2 or No. 3 pitcher to begin the season, they will have no problem when Mike Minor and Ervin Santana make their debuts.