There really is no way to accurately predict how teams in any sport will finish in a given season. While certain teams seem to have more talent on paper, it is impossible to factor in things like injuries, chemistry, and something as simple as a player backing up what it says on his baseball card. Sure, it is easy to suggest that players may depreciate due to age, it is difficult to rate exactly as much. So, in the end, there is no set prediction to trust as being better than another. All should be considered equal as long as reasoning is provided for why a certain team may finish as well or as poorly.
This is my fifth year doing my team predictions. While my accuracy has improved each year, it is far from perfect. I will discuss the outlook from the previous season, the moves made in the off season, the team's farm system and what players can be expected to improve for each team. Based off of that, I have viewed the Las Vegas over unders, and have given said team a win total. As in the previous years, I will do the predictions from worst to best.
The Atlanta Braves finished 2015 with a 67-95 record, forth in the National League East. The second half of the season was very difficult to watch, going through a 18-37 stretch which covered the months of August and September. They did finish off the season with a three game sweep of the NL Central DIvision Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Two distinct reviews both equally represent the state of the Atlanta Braves after a very busy winter. The trade of shortstop Andrelton Simmons (.265 batting average, 4 home runs, 44 RBI, .660 on base plus slugging) and right hand pitcher Shelby Miller (6 wins- 17 losses, 3.02 earned run average, 171 strikeouts in just over 205 innings pitched) netted the Braves some of the top prospects in all of baseball. RHP Chris Ellis and left hand pitcher Sean Newcomb came over in the Simmons trade from Los Angeles and 2015 number one overall pick Dansby Swanson and RHP Aaron Blair going to the Braves in the deal for Miller. While the future may look bright, the present looks the exact opposite of that.
The Braves did get a couple of everyday players in the trades as well. SS Erick Aybar (.270, 3, 44, .639) and CF Ender Inciarte (.303, 6, 45, .747) give the Braves a little bit of a better chance to contend. They join a lineup that feature star first baseman Freddie Freeman (.276, 18, 66, .841). Freeman hopes that he is fully recovered from an injury that cost him over forty games last season. Thirty- year old Cuban born Hector Olivera (.253, 2, 11, .715) is making the transition from the infield to the outfield. Though it is no guarantee it is a given he will succeed as an OF, odds are he will be able to break out this season offensively. Veteran OF Nick Markakis (.296, 3, 53, .746) adds some depth with veteran catcher AJ Pierzynski (.300, 9, 49, .769), second baseman Jace Peterson (.239, 6, 52, .649) and third baseman Adonis Garcia (.277, 10, 26, .790) round out the projected Braves starting lineup. I would line them like this- Aybar SS, Inciarte CF, Freeman 1B, Olivera LF, Markakis RF, Garcia 3B, Pierzynski C, Peterson 2B.
Assuming nobody is traded by the start of the regular season (a far fetched assumption), the Braves have the makings of an extremely solid MLB bench. OFs Michael Bourn (.238, 0, 30, .592) and Nick Swisher (.196, 6, 25, .631) return for the Braves and they added infielders Kelly Johnson (.265, 14, 47, .750) and Gordon Beckham (.209, 6, 20, .607) as well as catcher Tyler Flowers (.239, 9, 39, .652). Daniel Castro (.240, 2, 5, .606) and Emilio Bonifacio (.167, 0, 4, .390) both have a good chance of making the team because of their versatility, but a spot needs to be cleared for Castro and Bonifacio needs to simply prove he can still play.
If the Braves have one strength, it is the back of their bullpen. Arodys Vizcaino (3-1, 1.60, 9 saves, 37 K in just under 34 innings) will likely be the team's closer. Jason Grilli (3-4, 2.94, 24 saves, 45 K in just under 34 innings) is returning from an Achilles injury and is joined by RHP Jim Johnson (2-6, 4.46, 10 saves). Johnson started 2014 with Atlanta and was great (2-3, 2.25, 9 saves) before his trade to LA. A wild card may be RHP Mike Foltynewicz, who was acquired in a 2014 deal with Houston. He has the opportunity to become a dominant late inning reliever after coming through the minor leagues as a starting pitcher. LHPs Andrew McKirahan, Ian Krol and Manny Banuelos lead a strong core of hard throwing lefties. RHP Shae Simmons (1-2, 2.91, 23 Ks) is expected to return from Tommy John surgery and could free Foltynewicz or Banuelos for the starting rotation. Veterans Alexei Ogando, David Carpenter and Alex Torres are all in on minor league invites.
The lack of MLB ready depth in the starting rotation will make things tough for Atlanta. Of course, the thoughts that Newcome, Ellis and Blair coming to the bigs within the next year or so are encouraging. RHP Julio Teheran (11-8, 4.04, 171 Ks) is the ace of this staff. I would think the Braves would look to trade Teheran during the season as long as he continues to pitch well. Bud Norris, a 15 game winner for Baltimore in 2014, was released last season after pitching horribly (2-9, 7.06). He finished off the year in the San Diego Padres bullpen and pitched okay, not particularly dominating. The Braves will look to Norris to be their number two starter in 2016, followed by Matt Wisler (8-8. 4.71), Williams Perez (7-6, 4,78) and Ryan Weber (0-3, 4.76). If this starting rotation works itself out, it will allow for their bullpen to be great. If not, Foltynewicz and Banuelos will get their shot. The three young pitchers acquired in the off season are unlikely to impact the 2016 club.
Twelve of the Braves top sixteen prospects are pitchers led by Newcome, Blair and Ellis. Also among the list are RHPs Touki Toussant and Tyrell Jenkins as well as LHP Kolby Allard. Swanson looks like a star to be and he could come up to the big club late this season. But he is not the only shortstop high on Atlanta's list. Ozhaino Albies seems to be a tremendous glove with the ability to hit for average. Despite not having any power, Albies looks like a legitimate MLB caliber defensive SS.
Odds are the 2016 season is not going to look good for the Atlanta Braves. It is for the best, as the next several seasons look more promising as the young talent will continue to prosper through the minor league system. Fredi Gonzalez is given the task of trying to keep the Braves competitive. Unfortunately, it will probably not end well for Fredi, or the 2016 Braves, for that matter. Las Vegas has the Braves Over/ Under at 65, but I expect the Braves to finish worse than that. I got them at 56-106, last place in the NL East as well as last place in all of MLB. The Braves will be able to strengthen their minor league system through the higher draft picks they will gain both this and next year.