Well, if you’re ready, let’s talk about the Braves again.
You’ve probably heard that Grapefruit League stats don’t count for much, that guys are shaking off the winter rust and that aside from the last handful of spots, competition is not exactly fierce most of the time. Club Med for ballplayers, as it were. And while the truth is that spring training stats don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things – Dan Uggla hit four home runs during spring training last season and two during the regular season – they can titillate the fans and pundits for the immediate or in some cases very distant future.
So that brings us to the Braves. And some early observations.
As expected, the power is down. However, the cratering has caught many by surprise. The Braves have a spring-training low nine home runs as a group (tied with the Marlins), and only Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons have more than one big fly to their respective names.
Losing Evan Gattis, Justin Upton and Jason Heyward and failing to bring any power back into the fold was always going to be problematic, but still… if (a big IF, spring training and all) the power was zapped for 2015, an improved on-base percentage is just trading one offense-crippling problem for another.
(Although I will admit, I was way too impressed to learn that the Braves are sixth in walks as a team during spring training. Of course, being impressed with walks is probably an omen for the season. Also, seems like a good time to mention that I’ll be keeping tabs on Gattis, Upton, Heyward and the rest of the cast-off gang this season. We may have a running ‘Which former Brave had the best week’ segment. I’m not sure yet. Should be fun!)
If it’s a feast-or-famine offense, at least it’ll be different. On Monday, the Braves scored 14 runs against the Astros without hitting a single home run. They went 11-for-20 with runners in scoring position. They displayed the sort of ‘get on, get over, get in’ mentality the 2014 squad could not have pulled off on its best day. Do I care that it came against a bunch of guys that will most likely spend the summer in Corpus Christi or Fresno (home to this delightful promotion )? Absolutely not! I’m trying to maintain enthusiasm about a team whose ceiling is being tossed about as ‘85 wins if everything breaks absolutely perfectly’, I’ll take my positives where I can find them.
Spring has been kind for some. Newly-acquired Jace Peterson owns the second-base job . It is his. Only a weird disease or a more-experienced Jose Peraza is taking it from him. Eric Young Jr. should, at worst, be the Opening Day centerfielder and could make it hard for Melvin Upton Jr. (yeah, that), to regain his old spot, although I’m not going to do backflips that good ol’ EY Jr., he of the career .252 average whose held precisely one everyday job in his career, and that was with the 2013 Mets, is the alleged man at the top of the order. Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel  could’ve pouted, and instead embraced the idea of being the veterans to lean on. Wandy Rodriguez (2-0, 0.69 ERA) and Chien-Ming Wang (0-0, 2.70) decided to party like it was 2008 – there’s a better-than-decent chance that’s your No. 3 and No. 5 starters to start the regular season until Mike Minor gets healthy again. Somehow, I’m fine with that.
(Things I’m less fine with: Mike Foltynewicz got beat half to pieces during the spring (0-2, 7.04 ERA). James Russell has been unpleasant to behold. Alberto Callaspo showed up fat , and the two-headed monster in left field barely hit .200 combined. I’ve had night terrors about Peraza’s startlingly bad offense and had to remind myself he’s not even old enough to buy beer yet. Let’s move on.)
Not a single pundit I’ve found has said or written anything that sounds like, “The Braves are going to be good this year!” It’s not like this is a team burdened by high expectations – you know, like last year’s model. If they suck, they’re supposed to. If they don’t, hey, what a pleasant surprise. Assembling a team of nondescript veterans and unproven youngsters – whatever floats your boat, John Hart. Kimbrel has been dabbling with a changeup . Simba is still around to do all this  again. The two best things about this team haven’t gone anywhere, and if the parts are greater than the sum this year, they’re at least some pretty intriguing parts.