The Braves had themselves a very good season in 2013. Actually, the Braves got off to a really good start going 17-9, then went 20-7 in the month of August. The rest of the season, the Braves went 59-50 during the months of May, June, July and September. 96 wins is 96 wins and it was very impressive that they were able to keep the Nationals from making the NL East a race all season long. The Braves lost free agent catcher Brian McCann to the Yankees and made the trade with the Twins for catcher/ OF Ryan Doumit. Evan Gattis (.243, 21, 65) will get a good shot of winning the starting catching job with the loser probably getting some time in the OF. CF BJ Upton (.184, 9, 26) is coming off a terrible season and because of that, is not a guarantee to be an everyday player. If BJ does not start, Jason Heyward (.254, 14, 38 in 104 games) will move from RF-CF and Justin Upton (.263, 27, 70) will move from LF-RF, allowing Gattis or Doumit to play to OF. Another position that needs to be addressed is 2B. Dan Uggla (.179, 22, 55) needs to hit for a higher average or else somebody else will play there. Tyler Pastornicky and Tyler Greene are favorites to play in Uggla's place, but likely the Braves will pursue a trade to fill the position.
The Braves signed RHP Ervin Santana (9-10, 3.24 in 32 starts for Kansas City last season) to make up for the loss of Tim Hudson (8-7, 3.97 in 21 starts), who signed with the Giants and for the potential loss of RHPs Kris Medlen (15-12, 3.11 in 32 games, 31 starts) and Brandon Beachy (7-3, 3.68 in 25 starts before having Tommy John surgery in 2012). Medlen is almost certain to have the operation again, while Beachy may have to have another one again as well. This centers the Braves rotation around Santana, Mike Minor (13-9, 3.21 in 32 starts) and Julio Teheran (14-8, 3.20 in 30 starts). Also missing from the 2013 rotation is LHP Paul Maholm, who signed with the Dodgers. Finishing off the rotation, assuming no Medlen and Breachy, will be RHP Gavin Floyd (12-11, 4.29 in 29 starts for the 2012 White Sox) before missing most of 2013 and Alex Wood (3-3, 3.13 in 31 games, 11 starts). RHP Freddy Garcia pitched to a 1.65 ERA in 6 games for the Braves last season and gave up just 2 runs in 6 IP in the NLDS vs the Cardinals.
SS Andrelton Simmons (.248, 17, 59) had a breakout season as he emerged as one of the top defensive SS in all of baseball. 1B Freddy Freeman (.319, 23, 109) and Simmons got themselves their new extensions as the Braves will be counting on both moving forward. Doumit (.247, 14, 55 after driving in 77 runs for the Twins in 2012) will battle with Gattis to be the everyday catcher. Veteran Gerald Laird will be the backup catcher regardless, since Laird will be able to handle the late game relievers and be a defensive substitution for either late in games. Chris Johnson (.321, 12, 68) will be the starting 3B for the second consecutive season. My gut tells me the Braves lineup will look like this: Heyward CF, Simmons SS, J Upton RF, Freeman 1B, Doumit LF, Gattis C, Johnson 3B, Pastornicky 2B. I do not see either BJ Upton or Uggla making the everyday lineup and would not be surprised the Braves considered cutting Uggla all together despite of the $26 million he is owed through 2015. The Braves are more stuck with Upton, who has 4 years and $63 million left on his deal. But either can possibly get it back together, as neither had a season as bad as 2013 before. Here is the Braves lineup with the two of them: Heyward RF, Simmons SS, J Upton LF, Freeman 1B, Doumit/ Gattis C, Johnson 3B, B Upton CF, Uggla 2B. The Braves bench should be good with backup OFs, as Jordan Schafer, Joey Terdoslavich and Jose Constanza all can play. Ramiro Pena will likely be the backup infielder.
The Braves have the best closer in all of MLB in Craig Kimbrel (4-3, 50 saves, 1.21 with 98 Ks in 67 IP). LHP Luis Avilan (5-0, 1.52 in 75 games) was very good last season as well. RHPs Drew Carpenter (4-1, 1.78 in 56 games) and Jordan Walden (4-3, 3.45 in 50 games) provide an late game presence along with RHPs Anthony Varvaro (3-1, 2.82 in 62 games) and Corey Gearrin (2-1, 3.77 in 37 games). It would be great if the team can get back LHP Jonny Venters sometime this season. I think they will miss LHP Eric O'Flaherty, who signed a two year deal with the Athletics. The rule with relievers is that most are generally not good for more than one consecutive season. While that may not be a good thing for Avilan and Carpenter, it could work in reverse for Walden, who has closer stuff.
Manager Freddy Gonzalez has his work cut out for him this season, especially if his team has neither Medlen nor Beachy. I think they can do well, but I really see the Braves as more of a middle of the pack team than a division favorite. I see them being in the wild card race, but finishing on the outside looking in after the season ends. Vegas is a little down on the Braves as well, giving them a 87.5 O/U. I am predicting less than that at 82-80, 2nd place in the NL East.