MLB Spring Training 2012: Why the Atlanta Braves Are Playoff-Bound in 2012

Justin Janssen@@JJanssen11Correspondent IIIMarch 7, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Fredi Gonzalez #33 of the Atlanta Braves looks on during the game against the Florida Marlins at Turner Field on September 14, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

With Spring Training now underway and the 2012 regular season fast approaching, it is time to make some predictions about the upcoming season. Without further adieu, here are three reasons the Atlanta Braves are going to make the postseason in 2012: 

1 – MLB adds a second wild card

In the past two seasons, Atlanta Braves fans nervously awaited the final day of the regular season.

In 2010, Atlanta clinched a playoff berth on the season's final day, advancing to the postseason. However, the opposite occurred in 2011 when the Braves lost game 162 in extra innings and missed out on a one-game playoff by a single game. 

All the agony and suffering during last year's epic collapse would have been avoided if there were two wild cards in the National League. 

During the winter meetings, players and owners in baseball agreed to add a second wild card to both the National and American leagues. 

Last season, the Atlanta Braves blew a 10.5 game lead on Aug. 27 in the wild card to the eventual world series champion, leaving fans heartbroken and wanting more.  

With five teams now advancing to the playoffs in each league instead of four, each club just based on probability, possesses has a greater chance of making the most exclusive postseason amongst the big four professional sports.

2 – The Braves ultimately have the same team as last year

ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 27: Chipper Jones #10 of the Atlanta Braves watches the action late in the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Turner Field on September 27, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

After the collapse, the knee-jerk reaction among Braves fans was to blow the team up.

That is what teams in larger markets do. Look at what happened to the Red Sox. Their two-time World Series winning manager was fired after blowing a similar lead in the American League. 

Later the media unveiled shocking revelations about the Red Sox clubhouse, such as pitchers drinking beer in the clubhouse on off days.

The reaction from the Atlanta clubhouse could not be further from the opposite. Fredi Gonzalez still manages the team, Frank Wren still reigns the General Manager position and most of the core Braves return in 2012.  

The only starters missing from a year ago are shortstop Alex Gonzalez and pitcher Derek Lowe

Atlanta will take a hit defensively losing Alex Gonzalez, but his bat was not producing. Lowe's loss is an indicator of addition by subtraction. 

The losses could have been worse. Milwaukee lost Prince Fielder and St. Louis lost Albert Pujols. 

These are the same Braves that won 91 games in 2010 and 89 in 2011, despite two dreadful slumps in September. They will be back in the chase next year. 

3 - O'Ventbrel shuts the door on opponents late in games 

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Atlanta Braves walks off the mound after a 4-1 win over the Florida Marlins at Turner Field on September 14, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Many teams had problems last year scoring against the back end of the Braves bullpen. 

The O'Ventbrel combination in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, was lethal to opposing hitters last season. 

The three relief pitchers Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters, and Craig Kimbrel all return to the Braves bullpen coming off stellar seasons.

Although O'Flaherty was the third wheel in the pecking order, he had an ERA below one. One! 

Everyday Jonny was probably overworked at the end of last season, but before "the collapse," Venters' nasty sinker fooled most hitters that came to bat. 

Add in Kimbrel, who won the 2011 National League Rookie of the Year, and you have one of one of the top bullpens in baseball. With 46 saves and 14.84 strikeouts per nine innings, hitters were left guessing.