As the weather moves from pleasant to hot, it’s time for our local boys of summer to finish up their tune-ups and tweaks while they prepare to make the venture north back to the friendly confines of The Ted.
The Atlanta Braves finished last season with an embarrassing 10-20 record and lost the last game of the regular season, missing the playoffs by one game. Braves Country was lucky that the Boston Red Sox also collapsed in a similar fashion – which drew media attention and saved us from even more national embarrassment.
However dejected Braves fans felt at the end of the 2011 campaign, spring brings to us a feeling that all is possible. Heck, even the Astros don’t have a losing record and right now and the Cubs have a shot at winning a title. While some may look at the end of last season and the poor record in spring training thus far as bad omens, I believe we have a lot to look forward to.
Our starting pitching depth and, new hitting coach, Greg Walker’s approach offers exciting possibilities. Especially the idea that Jason Heyward could bounce back to his 2010 healthy self and become the force we all want him to be. No one anticipates Martin Prado to get a staph infection in both his legs again this year, which crippled his season and sapped his strength and endurance. Second baseman Dan Uggla doesn’t look to hit sub .180 for the first half of the season and we have NL stolen base champion, Michael Bourn, for a full year. Reigning NL Rookie of the year and outstanding closer, Craig Kimbrel, and runner up Freddie Freeman look to continue their impressive work dominating the 9th and providing good defense with a high average, respectively.
Some others in Braves Country look for the negatives that we’ve seen so far. Tim Hudson is on the mend with a back issue and for a 36 year old could signal the beginning of the end. Chipper’s soon to be 40 year old knees only have so many at-bats left in them and rookies, Tyler Pastornicky and Anderton Simmons, are battling for the starting job. Tyler was presumed to have the job all but sewn up, however his struggles at the plate and in the field have opened the door for Simmons. Jair Jurrgens has struggled mightily this spring while getting adjusted to his newly added knee brace and doesn’t seem to have control over his pitches the way he used to.
All in all I truly believe that the Atlanta Braves have a lot going for them as April bears down upon us and the season’s start is right around the corner. The aging Phillies and the bungle that is the New York Metropolitans, combined with the improved Nationals and Marlins, offer to us baseball fans what would appear to be the most competitive division in the majors. As always, pray for pitching, be proud of the Chop, and if you need a smile – just remember when Sid slid.
Flint Huff is a guest columnist for The Citizen Sports Weekly
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