The 2011 Opening Day lineup is out, and it's a little surprising.
1. Martin Prado (R/LF)
2. Nate McLouth (L/CF)
3. Chipper Jones (B/3B)
4. Brian McCann (L/C)
5. Dan Uggla (R/2B)
6. Jason Heyward (L/RF)
7. Alex Gonzalez (R/SS)
8. Freddie Freeman (L/1B)
To see McLouth batting second and Heyward batting sixth was unexpected to me. I expect McCann to move back a spot since he has an off day every five days. Uggla was to be in the fourth spot, allowing the Braves to have a set top four.
Still, the lineup is fairly balanced, and the constant changing of right to left minimizes the effects of opposing teams platooning their bullpens. I could have sworn I'd seen something similar before.
So you have two guys with average power, some speed and okay OBPs leading off. Following them are four plus hitters that one bad pitch could cost you three or four runs in a single inning. Hey that sounds like the...Phillies?
Now, do not get me wrong, I do not expect the Braves to have a guy steal 40 bases in a season, nor do I expect anyone to rack up 45 HRs (well, not this season at least). The Phillies had a frightening offense in the past seasons, and it would be ridiculous to expect the Braves to score almost 900 runs in a season.
On the other hand, the Braves' top six are good enough to make the plan work. Think about how much stress a pitcher is going to be under if he's got less than two outs with either Prado or McLouth on base and the heart of the lineup coming to bat. I can just see Jonathan Sanchez spazzing out on the mound again.
The amount of pitches alone, going from Jones to Heyward, is going to raise pitch counts severely. To make up for that, you can expect Gonzalez and Freeman to see a few more fastballs. If that happens, then the Braves could see nice production from the bottom of the lineup as well.
On the same note, you can expect the Braves to see more middle relief arms. The Braves could end up scoring quite a few runs in the sixth or seventh inning.
If this lineup performs up to its expectations, Fredi Gonzalez should send Charlie Manual a box of fine cigars and a 20-year-old single malt.