Atlanta Braves 2012 Season: 5 Initial Observations
The Atlanta Braves season opened on Thursday with excitement and questions. The Braves faced questions all spring about how they would respond following the epic collapse last September. Even with the questions swirling, the overall feeling surrounding the team was excitement.
The pitching staff has recovered from numerous injuries late last season, and the Braves expect bounce-back seasons from Jason Heyward and Dan Uggla. The season, however, did not start the way the Braves wanted, as Johan Santana returned to form in his first start in over a year and the Braves lost a close game 1-0, and currently stand at 0-2.
The pitching has started strong but the bats need to come alive. There is no question the Braves have a ton of talent on offense, but they need to be more consistent. They did face Santana and then the knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, so some of their shortcomings are understood.
The bottom line is the Braves will be in almost every game because of their pitching, but their bats will determine how far their pitching can take them.
1. Dan Uggla Still Cannot Lay off off-Speed Pitches in the Dirt
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Again, the Braves expect a bounce-back season from Uggla, as Atlanta hopes to see the hitter from after the All-Star break the entire season in 2012.
Uggla has plenty of power and showed it last season (despite his horrid average), and needs to capitalize by always hitting the first fastball he sees hard.
That is not a bad plan, but Uggla’s weakness since joining the Braves has been chasing off-speed pitches. Uggla showed his new strategy is not going to stop him from chasing those pitches in the dirt, especially with two strikes.
Until Uggla starts taking those pitches, he is going to have trouble raising his average above .260.
2. Jason Heyward Has Yet to Adjust to the Inside Fastball
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Jason Heyward's terrible sophomore campaign has been largely attributed to prematurely returning from an early-season shoulder injury.
I tend to believe that his shoulder hindered his progress, but there was a problem dating back to the 2010 playoffs as well: Heyward cannot hit the inside fastball.
The scouting report on Heyward is out. Every team knows they need to challenge him with inside heaters. The Mets did that with Johan Santana and Frank Francisco, and Heyward had yet to show any improvement.
Luckily for the Braves, Heyward can still make adjustments, and this season his injured shoulder will not stop him from doing so.
3. Tyler Pastornicky Could Hold off Andrelton Simmons Until Sept. Roster Expansion
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I believe Andrelton Simmons is the Braves’ long-term answer at shortstop. Simmons will be elite defensively and could develop into a top-of-the-order batter if the Braves are patient.
However, after watching Tyler Pastornicky in his first two games in “the show,” he proved his is capable of starting all season.
Pastornicky handled the bat well and showed discipline at the plate, even hitting a triple in his first game. Pastornicky even flashed a couple of great plays in the field with his glove and showed his quick hands turning double plays.
The Braves should feel more comfortable with Pastornicky at short after opening weekend.
4. The Mets Will Not Finish the Season in the Basement of the NL East
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The New York Mets seemed to be everyone’s favorite to be the NL East cellar dwellars this season.
The Phillies and the Braves are still contenders and the favorites, while the Marlins and Nationals are both improving and trending picks for the playoffs, leaving the Mets as the worst team in the division. Those predictions did not account for the resurgences of David Wright and Johan Santana.
Santana shut down the Braves Thursday. He looked focused and determined to return to his former self, as his slider and change-up dominated Braves hitters.
David Wright also contributed the only RBI in the first game, and gave the Mets the lead with a home run in the second game. Santana and Wright will not let the Mets finish last in the NL East.
5. Kris Medlen Could End the Season as the Braves’ Best Reliever
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Kris Medlen has proven before he can pitch very effectively as both a starter and reliever in the majors.
This season—with the depth the Braves have in their rotation and the injuries they have suffered in the bullpen—they need Medlen in the middle innings.
In the season opener, Medlen came in for Tommy Hanson with runners on base and shut the door on the Mets. Medlen will be used often as the first guy out the pen in close games. He can pitch multiple innings and is not afraid of pitching in tough spots.
By the end of the season, Medlen could be Atlanta's best reliever, despite all the talent in their 'pen.