After an exciting winter in Atlanta, the Braves are hoping to make a postseason run in 2013. However, in order to do that the Braves will need to overtake the Washington Nationals, or they will risk being in a play-in game all over again just like last year. They will also need to contend with the Phillies' strong rotation, and a Mets team that surprised many for most of 2012.
This article takes a look at my prediction for the Braves record in 2013, as well as where they will finish in the division.
The Braves may have a team capable of winning 100 games this year, but there are also some questions that need to be answered. Sure the lineup is strong, the bullpen is loaded and there are difference-makers all over the clubhouse, but you don't win games on paper (as the 2012 Marlins can tell you).
Offensively there are two main questions for the Braves to answer. The first is: With a bunch of power hitters, and hitters known to strike out, the Braves will rack up strikeouts in 2013. What the team will need to do is limit their strikeouts as best they can and get on base to take advantage of all of the talent in their lineup.
The second question offensively is whether Andrelton Simmons is capable of handling the pressure as a leadoff hitter in his first full season. That is a lot of pressure for any young player, let alone one who has only 340 at-bats in his career at or above the Double-A level.
Still, the Braves lineup has a ton of weapons, such as the Upton brothers, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, and they will score runs. They also have speed in the lineup, which will only help give them another weapon.
Then there's a very strong defense, with three very good outfielders, the best defensive shortstop in the game and a good young defensive first baseman.
The lineup isn't the only area of with questions for the Braves. The issue with the pitching staff is what the starters will give.
Paul Maholm is a solid No. 4 starter and innings eater, but every other starter in the rotation has a question attached to him. Did we see the real Kris Medlen down the stretch in 2012? How will Tim Hudson perform at age 37? Can Mike Minor be more consistent, instead of awful for one half or the year and dominant for the other half? What can be expected out of prospect Julio Teheran? Can Brandon Beachy return by the end of the season?
Still, there is plenty of talent in the rotation. In fact, if Hudson is the same guy we saw last year, Minor is solid and Medlen is even half as good as we saw down the stretch, the Braves could potentially have one of the better rotations in the game.
Then mix in the best bullpen in the game, and the Braves could have a special collection of pitchers.
The Braves have plenty of weapons and plenty of questions, but to me the positives outweigh the potential issues. Throw in the fact that the Braves get to play the Mets and Marlins over 40 times, and things are looking good for them.
In the NL East the top contender is the Nationals. The Nats have the best team in the game right now, as they have a strong rotation, bullpen and lineup. They also have youngsters ready to take the next step in their development, just like the Braves. A rotation starting with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman and a lineup featuring power and speed means they will be tough competition until the end.
The Phillies are a dark horse candidate to compete this year, and that is on the strength of a pitching staff led by Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. Sure the lineup is old and on the decline, but there is still talent there with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. If they can stay healthy and hit enough, they could be a contender right up until the end.
The Mets surprised many last year by exceeding expectations for most of the year before fading towards the end. Their ability to do the same this year may be limited by dealing R.A. Dickey and having to deal with potential injury issues with Johan Santana. The Mets have the worst outfield in all of baseball with Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter and Lucas Duda, but there is plenty of hope for the future with a bunch of young talent near the big leagues.
The Marlins are in the running for the worst team in the game after breaking up their team to rebuild, yet again. Right now the team has Giancarlo Stanton, Ricky Nolasco and little else. The Marlins will need some luck just to stay out of the basement this year.
Prediction: 96-66, 2nd in the NL East to the Nationals
The Braves have plenty of talent, but the Nationals have just as much if not more. The thing that puts the Nationals over the Braves to me is the fact that the Nationals have a pair of true aces in Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, along with a borderline third in Jordan Zimmerman. However, the gap between these teams is very slim, and this race should go to the end as a very tight one.