Bold Predictions for the Atlanta Braves in the Playoffs
In case you haven't heard, the Atlanta Braves are headed to the playoffs. The team is officially heading to the playoffs as one of the Wild Card winners, and are very likely to meet the Cardinals in a one-game playoff due to the new format that begins this season.
As if the playoffs alone were not a big enough story, the team will also be saying goodbye to legendary third baseman Chipper Jones after the playoffs end. Jones does not seem like he will be changing his mind about retirement after a very strong season, so this will be the last chance to watch him in a Braves uniform.
This article has six bold predictions for the Atlanta Braves in the 2012 playoffs. These predictions are for both the team and for individuals.
Kris Medlen Will Continue His Streak
Unless you haven't been paying attention for the last two months, you are aware of the fact that Kris Medlen has been the best starting pitcher in the game ever since the All-Star break. Medlen, a former reliever who is recovering from Tommy John Surgery, has posted eye-popping numbers ever since re-joining the rotation.
Medlen is 10-1 with a 1.57 ERA and 0.91 WHIP on the season, which includes 12 starts and 38 relief appearances. Those are crazy numbers for a pitcher, but when you consider he is 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA in those 12 starts, the numbers are even crazier to look at.
Dating back to 2010, Medlen has won 23-consecutive starts, a Major League record. He has even drawn comparisons to Greg Maddux for his approach and his control.
My prediction for Medlen is that he wins his opening start in the playoffs, as the Braves knock off the Cardinals and advance into the NLDS. The way he is pitching right now and the way the Cardinals lineup has slowed in the second half of the season, it just seems like a great matchup for the Braves to get the win.
Michael Bourn Returns to Form
Michael Bourn barely made the All-Star team this year, but with his first-half performance it was a well-deserved spot on the team. Bourn was in the middle of a monster season in his contract year, and may have been close to pricing himself out of the Braves' price range.
Since then Bourn hasn't done much. He hasn't hit above .250 in any month since June, and hasn't posted an OPS above .701 either. His first-half power surge has also come to an end, as he has just two home runs since the break after hitting seven prior to it. He has also missed some time recently to injury.
Bourn is a star and has the ability to make an impact in every facet of the game. He's simply too good to not give the Braves a strong performance in the playoffs, especially with free agency just weeks away.
Chipper Jones Has a Last Shining Moment
Chipper Jones has a flair for the dramatic. The face of the Braves has come up in the clutch countless times and has defied the odds nearly as many times. Now that he is nearing the end, with plenty left in the tank, it is impossible to see him going out quietly.
I can't predict what the big moment will be for Chipper, but I can all but guarantee that he will do something special for his team. Whether it is with the bat or his glove, Chipper Jones will be a major factor in these playoffs.
The Offense Will Show Up Against the Cardinals
With the Cardinals looking good for their spot in the playoffs, they will have a chance to work their pitching staff a little to get one of their best starters in the Wild Card game against the Braves. That is a very good thing for the Cardinals, who have a pair of tough veterans with big-game experience in Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter.
The Braves have the pitching to shut down the Cardinals lineup, but they also have the ability to put runs on the scoreboard. Whether it is one of the veterans like Chipper Jones or Brian McCann, or one of the young stars in the making like Jason Heyward or Freddie Freeman or even rookie shortstop Andrelton Simmons, the Braves have the firepower to win this game even if their pitching struggles.
I predict that the Braves will score at least six runs against the Cardinals as they will really be giving it their all considering the way they missed the playoffs last year and had to watch the Cardinals sneak into their spot before going on to win the World Series and the fact that Chipper Jones is set to retire after the year.
The Youngsters Emerge as the New Face of the Team
With Chipper Jones done at the end of the playoffs, the Braves will be replacing their star. It also means that the Braves will need to find a new face of the franchise, as that is a role that Chipper has been playing for the last dozen years.
This is the perfect time for the talented duo of youngsters to really emerge as the face of the team. Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman have been having strong seasons, though their production is a bit over-shadowed by Jones and some of the other veterans in the lineup.
Both Heyward and Freeman have the potential to be All-Stars on an annual basis, and are each on the verge of getting near that level. These guys have the ability to come up with the clutch hits, so they shouldn't really have a hard time showing their skills. Just a few big hits in the clutch are likely to be enough to propel these fan-favorites to the main guys on the team.
The Braves Will Reach the World Series
I saved the boldest prediction for last, as I am predicting the Braves to go on to reach the World Series. This means that the team would need to beat the Cardinals in the Wild Card matchup, then beat two of the three division winners.
The Braves certainly have the ability to do this. Kris Medlen has been the best pitcher in the game over the last few months, while Tim Hudson, Mike Minor and Paul Maholm have also been strong. Throw in the Braves bullpen of Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty, and you are looking at a very talented group of pitchers.
The Braves also have the ability to score runs, led by Michael Bourn and Martin Prado at the top and having a middle of the order featuring Jason Heyward, Chipper Jones, Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla and Brian McCann.
Of course I would not like the Braves' chances as much if Stephen Strasburg was pitching for the Nationals, but without him they don't look as tough as they previously did.