5 Bold Predictions for Ben Sheets with the Atlanta Braves

Daniel KockContributor IIIJuly 9, 2012

5 Bold Predictions for Ben Sheets with the Atlanta Braves

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    The Atlanta Braves recently signed Ben Sheets to a minor league contract in hopes to bolster their starting rotation.

    Sheets has only made one start for Double-A Mississippi, but all signs point to the Braves calling him up to the big leagues to see what he can do.

    It's hard to predict what you're going to get from Sheets since he hasn't pitched since 2010, but here are some bold predictions on what he'll do in the second half of the season.

1. Rotation Spot

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    The Braves will make Ben Sheets a part of the starting rotation in the first series back from the All-Star break against the New York Mets.

    With the trade deadline looming the Braves are going to want to see what Sheets can do as soon as possible.

    If he's dominant the Braves can afford to hold back from acquiring a pitcher, but if he struggles the Braves' search for another pitcher will amp up.

    Mike Minor and Randall Delgado have been inconsistent while Jair Jurrjens is still trying to get back to his past form.

    Why not give Sheets a shot right away in an important series with a division rival? The Mets will be one of the Braves' main competitors in the division, so Sheets can prove early that he's in a position to help the Braves down the stretch.

    It's risky to throw him right away, but the Braves need to determine by the end of the month if Sheets can be a fixture in the rotation.

70+ Strikeouts

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    There's no denying that Ben Sheets has nasty stuff.

    Sheets struck out over 150 batters in four seasons including an incredible 264 strikeouts in 2004 with the Milwaukee Brewers.

    In his first minor league start with Mississippi, he struck out six batters in just five innings of work.

    The Braves were impressed with his velocity and movement on his breaking ball when they saw him throw his bullpen session.

    The organization was also pleased with what he showed in that first minor league start.

    Sheets will likely get about 12 starts if he stays in the rotation. He will need to average about six strikeouts a game in order to reach 70, and for Sheets that is possible.

ERA Below 3.5

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    Sheets posted a 4.53 ERA for the Oakland Athletics in 20 starts in 2010.

    However, in the National League with the Milwaukee Brewers he was below a 3.5 ERA in three of his last five seasons. That included his 2004 season in which he had a 2.70 ERA.

    The National League is easier to pitch in than the American League without the designated hitter. And the National League East is mediocre when it comes to hitting. The Phillies are surprisingly the only team in the top five in hitting in the National League while the Marlins are second to last in that category.

    Sheets last finished a season with an ERA under 3.5 in 2008, but reaching that mark in the second half of this season is very manageable.

No. 2 Starter

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    Sheets has the potential to become the No. 2 starter on this staff sooner rather than later.

    Hudson will be the ace of the staff, but the other guys are very much up in the air.

    The previously mentioned Minor and Delgado show flashes but are going through the predictable growing pains.

    Jurrjens has pitched well since being recalled from the minors but still isn't cemented in the rotation going forward.

    The Braves signed Sheets in the first place because of the inconsistent performances from these pitchers. Sheets will also be fresh which gives him an edge over the other pitches who may start to inevitably wear down.

    Sheets will jump these guys when he gets his shot, and manager Fredi Gonzalez will most likely give Sheets an edge over Hanson at the end of the year due to his greater pitching experience.

Division Title

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    The Braves are in position to make a run at the National League East as they sit just four games back from the Washington Nationals at the All-Star break.

    The Phillies and Marlins don't appear to be factors anymore, and the Mets have been the surprise of the first half. A drop-off from them is expected.

    Sheets will come in and be that missing piece in the rotation. He gives the Braves a more consistent option than either of the two rookies.

    Over time that becomes a huge factor in closing the gap. With good pitching you always have a shot to win.

    The Braves have the pieces to win the division, and Sheets will be a big part of that.

    I know Braves fans would be pleased if Sheets can return to his old form, but it's time for the Braves to throw him out there and see what he can do.