Not much has changed for the Braves from 2011to 2012. The kids got a year older Freeman/Heyward, the HOF got a year older, and they replaced their shortstop. Otherwise this is pretty much the same Brave team that was 89 - 73 last year.
In 2012 the Braves started the season getting swept by Mets, and followed that by losing the first game against the Astro's putting them at 0 - 4 to start the season. They have since won ten out of twelve, making them one of the hottest teams in the NL. Their five game winning streak was snapped by the Diamondbacks on Sunday but not after the Braves beat up on the injured Diamondbacks the first three games of the series.
1st Base - 22 year old Freddie Freeman is building on his solid debut season from 2011. With so many elite first baseman moving over to the NL the question was being raised, who could be the NL All-Star? You might be looking at him. TSL .283/.318/.533 looks promising. Little light on the plate discipline and K's a lot (19/64) but plenty of power.
2nd Base - Dan Uggla took off the first half of last year and while he's not at that putrid level he has yet to get going so far. Uggla has hit the most home runs for a second baseman in the 21st century. Not bad for a rule five pick.
Player HR From To Age PA BA OBP SLG OPS Pos Dan Uggla 192 2006 2012 26-32 4113 .258 .342 .480 .822 *4/D Chase Utley 188 2003 2011 24-32 4778 .290 .377 .505 .882 *4/3D Jeff Kent 183 2001 2008 33-40 4682 .296 .363 .507 .870 *4/3D Robinson Cano 145 2005 2012 22-29 4483 .307 .347 .494 .841 *4/D Brandon Phillips 131 2002 2012 21-31 4406 .271 .321 .433 .754 *4/6D Craig Biggio 131 2001 2007 35-41 4602 .265 .333 .432 .765 *48/7D2 Ian Kinsler 128 2006 2012 24-30 3524 .275 .356 .471 .827 *4/D Bret Boone 127 2001 2005 32-36 3088 .281 .342 .483 .825 *4/D Ray Durham 115 2001 2008 29-36 4430 .276 .353 .450 .803 *4/D8 Rickie Weeks 111 2003 2012 20-29 3409 .254 .354 .434 .787 *4/D Aaron Hill 101 2005 2012 23-30 3847 .266 .321 .417 .738 *4/6D5
SS - 22 year old rookie Tyler Pasternicky replaces Alex Gonzalez at SS. Tyler did not hit in the spring and has not hit so far in 2012, however the Braves usually know what they are doing, so I suspect Tyler will prove adequate for the job. Tyler was the part I ignored when I panned the Alex Gonazlez / Yunel Escobar trade of 2010. Already starting in 2012 it looks like the Braves may have the last laugh on that deal.
3rd - Future HOF Chipper Larry Jones is here for his swan song. One of the greatest hitters of his era, the sweet switch hitting 3rd baseman will be missed. Uber power hitting left handed Juan Francisco was acquired from the Reds to play 3rd base when Chipper is nursing any of a myriad of injuries that will keep him on the bench more times than not. I think the Braves stole him, but time will tell if the K's and defense drag him down.
Catcher- Brian McCann is the best offensive catcher in the NL. You knew that.
Right Field - Jason Heyward must be healthy because he's hitting like many expected of him in 2011. The offense is being led by the two twenty two year olds. Heyward currently has a TSL of .309/.377/.527.
Center Field - Michael Bourn is running, walking, playing great defense, and doing exactly what the Braves envisioned when they traded from him last year.
Left Field - Martin Prado somehow became a LF.. It is bewildering to me but here he sits. A good hitting infielder,Prado seems miscast as a LF. Maybe I'm just jealous that the Braves have so many good hitting infielders they can just toss one into the outfield.
Game One - Jair Jurrens:
The main thing to watch for is the effectiveness of his changeup. His fastball has lost 4mph but his changeup has maintained its velocity. This has left his fastball only 6mph faster than his changeup on average, and both pitches have become susceptible to hard contact. He's going to have to be careful with his location if he expects to have success, and Dodgers will have to counter that by being patient and forcing him to throw pitches they can drive to the gaps.
Game Two - Mike Minor:
What to Watch For: Incredibly similar to Jurrjens stuff-wise, Minor has been effective due to the deception in his left-handed delivery as well as the added natural sink on his fastball. He'll still run into the same velocity-related problems as Jurrjens, but he should be able to control our lineup a little better.
Game Three - Brandon Beachy:
What to Watch For: Last year, Beachy threw his fastball and cutter away from both right- and left-handed hitters. This year, he's begun throwing his cutter in on the hands of left-handed hitters. If he can master that pitch, he'll be a dominant pitcher for years if he can stay healthy. Parts of his mechanics suggest long-term health may not be the case, but for now he hasn't had any issues. Watch to see if Beachy attacks lefties Dee Gordon, James Loney and Andre Ethier inside with the cut fastball. If he locates it, it'll be a long day for each of them. He he leaves one over the plate, however, it could mean fireworks.
Bullen - Best one two punch on the East Coast Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters put the fear into any team who is behind after seven innings. Kris Medlen came back from TJ to give the bullpen another strong arm. Livan Hernandez was signed to mentor and help out if any of the starts get blown out early. Christhian Martinez, Chad Durbin, and Eric O'Flaherty fill out the bullpen.
This is the second team the Dodgers have faced in 2012 that has a legitimate shot at the post season. The Braves are solid up and down the lineup, with a killer bullpen, and a decent rotation. Without Clayton/Chad going for the Dodgers, they will be hard pressed to take two out of three. The Capang duo along with Lilly have their work cut out for them. Excellent test in this young season.
Can't do a Brave Preview without mentioning a player who came to my attention this spring. Old man Evan Gattis has quite a story and I'll be rooting for him to make up for lost time. He's currently crushing in the California League so a promotion to AA is probably going to happen fairly soon. I'll be watching.