Tomorrow’s News Today: The 2014 Braves Regular Season Retrospective(s) (OPENING DAY GAME THREAD!)

Author’s Note: I’ve come into possession of a flying DeLorean and have used it to make a few trips into October to see what became of the Braves this year. However, as any veteran time traveler knows, the future isn’t written and is in fact subject to events that can throw the timeline onto alternate paths entirely.

The forecasters at Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs see the 2014 Braves as a middle-of-the-pack National League team with a puncher’s chance of stealing the division from the heavily favored Nationals. But unlike the Dodgers, who won a billion games and the NL West all but one of the times I went to October, the Braves are a pretty high-variance outfit, and every time I went back to the future, they had done something totally different. Behold are recaps from versions of the three most common scenarios I encountered on my trips to October:

Scenario #1: The Bottom Falls Out

Settle in for the summer, because those injuries to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy were just the beginning. The pitching staff never got healthy, and that was a must for a team this thin on starting pitching depth. Gavin Floyd’s speedy return from Tommy John surgery pretty much went the way Beachy’s did, and his time as a Brave lasted but a few starts in May. Mike Minor battled nagging injuries all year, and another starter – I won’t say who, it’ll just depress you – bit the dust midway through the season.

That was pretty much that, at that point. The lack of starting pitching depth overtaxed the bullpen, who started hitting the DL hard themselves. Remember 2008, when injuries reduced the staff down the stretch to a lot of Campillo, Reyes, and Morton? Get ready for an August down to a lot of Hale, Harang, and Pickles.

It’s not really possible to mash your way out of this type of problem, but the Braves did themselves no favors. Evan Gattis never saw a fastball to hit, couldn’t adjust to the junk, and put up a line pretty close to his 2013 second half. Dan Uggla played his way out of the second base job by June, but his replacements were… replacement level. Andrelton Simmons remained a five-win player with the glove, but his season at the plate was a series of pop-ups in pursuit of 20 home runs.

Chris Johnson finally had his long-awaited regression, B.J. Upton was better than the depths of 2013 but not enough to offset the loss of Brian McCann in the lineup, and poor Jason Heyward missed two months when a piano fell out of the sky and hit him on the head. (He came back and still posted a four-win season.)

Bright spots included Justin Upton, who stayed consistent enough to mash 40 homers, and Freddie Freeman, who made it back to the All-Star Game. Overall, this team was lucky to win the 70 games it did, though.

Scenario #2: Muddle Into Wild-Card Contention

This wasn’t the greatest Braves season you ever saw, but it was one of the gamest. The 2014 Braves made the wild-card game but there’s no way I’m sticking around the future long enough to see how that turns out.

The top five starters (Minor, Santana, Teheran, Floyd, and Wood) were never all healthy at the same time, but none were catastrophically hurt and the team got strong spot-start performances from Hale, Pickles, and Harang when they needed them. Jonny Venters came back mid-season to give the bullpen a boost, and after some early- season hiccups the Braves found an effective bridge to Craig Kimbrel.

Dan Uggla played his way out of the second base job by June, but Ramiro Pena and Tommy La Stella proved league-average as a two-headed replacement. Chris Johnson didn’t equal his 2013 batting average but came close enough to contribute effectively. Evan Gattis didn’t get on base much but still clubbed 25 homers, including a walk-off in a September series against the Pirates that effectively swung a wild-card spot.

Jason Heyward stayed healthy all year and put up a six-win season from the leadoff spot. Andrelton Simmons was still all glove, but started showing some signs of making more consistent line-drive contact by the end of the season. The Braves won 86 games and the second wild-card spot, and will head to San Francisco for a one-game playoff I will absolutely refuse to watch.

Scenario #3: Everything Coming Up Braves

This one happened about once every five times I went to October, but man is it fun when it does.

The big thing here is Julio Teheran becomes an ace. Like a Kershaw-esque, if-we’re-on-a-losing-streak-it-ends-today, Pedro-on-the-Red-Sox-dealing-filth, ace. Teheran made his first All-Star Game and I’m sure he’s going to be in the discussion for Kershaw’s runner-up in the Cy Young voting soon.

After Teheran, everyone kind of fell into their role in the rotation. Mike Minor came back from his injury to become the National League’s best #2 starter, Ervin Santana had a Good Ervin Santana season and will start Game 3 of the NLDS, and Gavin Floyd did his Gavin Floyd thing and pitched 170 innings of league-average ball in the back of the rotation. Alex Wood started the year as an effective starter and then transitioned into the bullpen, where Wood/Carpenter/Walden/Venters/Kimbrel have basically gone 1996 Yankees on the league and forced opponents to take a lead by the 6th inning, because the Braves are basically unbeatable if they go into the 7th with the lead.

Dan Uggla reinvented himself as a walks-and-doubles hitter and started at second all season. That freed Ramiro Pena up for a super-sub role in the infield, where he was effective spelling the starters during cold streaks and bouts of nagging injury. Jason Heyward put it all together and will be in the MVP conversation, posting a 30/30 season from the leadoff spot and helping push the Braves out to a lot of early leads in games. B.J. Upton recovered enough of his swing to be a two-win player in center field. Everyone had their nagging injuries, but solid bench play from Pena, Jordan Schafer, and Ryan Doumit kept the lineup afloat while the regulars got healthy.

The Braves were a bit slow out of the gate due to pitching injuries, but kept the race with the Nationals close until September, when they pulled away winning five of six games against the Nats in a crucial two-week stretch. They’re headed straight to the NLDS, while Washington has to go play a coin flip to get in.

The future begins today.

128 thoughts on “Tomorrow’s News Today: The 2014 Braves Regular Season Retrospective(s) (OPENING DAY GAME THREAD!)”

  1. Just like last year, head-to-head play against the Nats is gonna be key. Not getting off to a terrible start in the first series matchups: we get to see two of their “Who’s he again?” guys, while they draw Teheran and Wood (and Hale… hope the Braves have their hitting shoes on for that game).

  2. We lost our best pitcher so scenario #2 is about the best I’m hoping for. This is going to be an interesting season. A couple of possible redemption stories, young guys everywhere, and enough question marks in the rotation to make you wonder if we might get to see some AA phenoms with the big club later on this summer.

  3. Scenario #2 is, to my rational side, the most likely.

    But today is the day to hope for unlikely good things!

  4. Scenario #3 is so stupid. A realistic “everything coming up braves” would include a bat-licking clinic during Georgie’s July in the majors when the team starts clicking, prompting them to replace the hugs with 25-man bat-licks, and sending the internet into a meme flurry.

    Put that in your Delorean’s tail-pipe.

  5. It’s been too long since this question was relevant; “is this the game thread?”

    1. Jason Heyward RF
    2. B.J. Upton CF
    3. Freddie Freeman 1B
    4. Chris Johnson 3B
    5. Justin Upton LF
    6. Dan Uggla 2B
    7. Evan Gattis C
    8. Andrelton Simmons SS
    9. Julio Teheran P

  6. This Edward guy is a tool. Or a troll. Can’t decide.

    Unless I’m missing his rare breed of sarcasm, in which case I apologize.

  7. Seriously, Edward. It’s Opening Day. If you’re a Braves fan, shut up and be optimistic. It’s OPENING DAY. It’s like Easter, only real.

  8. Sam, really? Do we want to start opening day with you offending people? There are rules to this board that haven’t changed. I’m all for a religious conversation here if we can do so.

  9. This is the game thread, yes.

    Edward is being cheeky in my reading. We cool. Everyone hug it out. Or lick it out. Whichever. He simply reminds me that I neglected to account for the impact of Jose Constanza’s like 9th straight year riding the Gwinnett-Atlanta shuttle. How does that guy still have option years?

  10. It’s a day ending in Y, so yeah, I’ll probably offend someone today. If that’s what it takes to get BJ Upton on track I’m willing to take that hit.

  11. Geez, so much acrimony for the greatest day of the year. Let’s all, regardless of our religious persuasion, visualize the strikeouts Julio is going to be inducing in… let me check… one hour and 42 minutes.*

    *Projection assumes a 25-minute top of the first in which the Braves score nine times and knock Gallardo out of the game.

  12. ‘It’s OPENING DAY. It’s like Easter, only real.’ Holy shit that’s funny. Sorry Alex, I know the rule.

    Scenario 3 all the way! Braves win!

  13. So good to have the Braves back! Just as good to be back on bravesjournal. Thanks for all of the hard work you guys put in in keeping this site up.

    Go Braves!

    -rj

  14. I guess it’s time for my annual prediction. Given the injuries, 162-0 seems unlikely. 126-36. But maybe I’ve just let my native pessimism ruin my objectivity. OK — 129-33.

  15. Well done, WCG.

    A Funny Moment on the Train This Morning:
    A few weeks ago, Mets GM Sandy Alderson made a public statement saying that he thought his club could win 90 games this season. Lotsa media kerfluffle — “He’s delusional” vs. “He’s gotta sell tickets—what else is he going to say?” yadda-yadda.

    So I get on the LIRR in Woodside, just one stop from Flushing & the train is so packed with Mets fans (the aisles, everything, people scrunched face-to-face like a subway car), that I can barely get on the thing.

    Everyone’s wearing orange & blue. Almost everyone’s pulling from a can of beer in a bag and everyone, not surprisingly, is in a pretty good mood.

    Two guys right in front of me are going on about the Mets’ chances: “If this happens, if that happens, Ike Davis, Curtis Granderson, blah-blah, the Nats & Braves are having injury problems, the Marlins & Phillies suck, etc.” They’re whipping themselves into an Opening Day/Hope Springs Eternal frenzy.

    They stop blabbing and there’s quiet for once & one of them says, “Let’s face it, we’ll win those 90 games… but only if we play 250.”

  16. Blurb from the Mets broadcast: the last time the Mets fielded the same starting OF in back to back Opening Days was 1984 and 85.

  17. Was it wrong I was worried the broken bat would impale Jason? The kid has had some of the worst luck. I hope he stays healthy all year.

  18. And when introducing the Brewers lineup, Chip Caray refers to “former Brave Lyle Overbay.”

    First opposing batter of the year hits a double and then gets thrown out stupidly trying to go to third – on a ball he hit to left field. I’ll take that.

  19. @40

    I guess I just view life differently. Hometown star or not. Not saying he needs to be heckled and boo’d but a standing ovation for a guy that ruins the game for the other players that work hard and don’t use drugs? Just seems wrong to me.

  20. If Frank Wren could trade BJ Upton for Ryan Braun, Braves fans would be suddenly more forgiving of Braun’s sins.

  21. Did someone prove Braun used drugs? I believe there was a drug test that the arbitrator threw out and a suspension with no admission of anything — right? And isn’t “ruins the game” a little harsh?

    Never mind… I take it all back. No arguing on opening day!

  22. Also, Braun tested positive again. He definitely used. He’s evil, not because of PED use, but because he wears the wrong laundry.

  23. @43 are you one of those PED apologists? Is barry innocent in your eyes too? And Braun admitted that he used PED’s. I really don’t know what you’re talking about.

  24. Totally ripping the cover off the ball today. Let’s get something here, Julio.

  25. @42 Ok? I wasn’t commenting on how braves fans would react. I just thought it was sending the wrong message to anyone who might be thinking about using PED’s and the players that work hard and stay clean.

  26. Fan reaction is probably #147 on the list of things going through a player’s head while they’re considering using PEDs.

  27. It’s just unreasonable expectations of a fan base. Brewers fans will cheer Braun as long as he is a Brewer. Giants fans will cheer Barry Bonds. Opponent fan bases will moralize about how bad those evil men are for leading the children astray. Until one of the home nine gets into something, then they will talk about giving a guy a chance after he did his time. It’s professional baseball, paid for in millions and millions of dollars. It ain’t little league.

  28. Yeah. These are drugs that you can take to help your team win ballgames, and it was widely understood that the guys on the other teams were taking them already. Except for conscientious objectors, who wouldn’t have taken them?

  29. I’m not a big PED guy, but Braun was pretty despicable in the aftermath of his first test. The way he actively threw the sample carrier (I don’t know if he was the actual test taker) under the bus, the woe-is-me vows to get to the bottom of it.

    I’d have a time welcoming him to the fold. He’s about the worst sort of ass-captain around.

  30. Lyle Overbay’s nickname in my since-2005 fantasy baseball league is “The Whore of The League” because we’ve all taken a turn with him at some point, but cast him away quickly.

  31. Braun was pretty horrible with the sample guy. No argument there. My only point is that fans forgive their own while holding it against opposing players. See also “David Ortiz” vs “Sammy Sosa.”

  32. And they decide against the replay. Sadness. Would have liked to have got that off the shelf.

  33. If I were a Brewers fan, I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to cheer for Braun, but I’m at the stadium rooting for the team he plays for and his personal successes are integral to my desired success for the team, so, well.

  34. I’m not against 2nd chances at all. Everyone makes mistakes. I just don’t think he should be cheered for it. Let him go a season of testing clean.

  35. If you guys think no Braves players took PEDs you’re fooling yourselves. That we don’t know exactly who is a bit of fortune for us because we can simply judge them by how they performed on the field without adding any morale fiber to the discussion.

  36. @59 There’s a difference between forgiving your own and giving a lying jackass a standing ovation. Quiet indifference would have been perfectly fine.

  37. @59, agreed. What irked me about Braun was the loathsome and self-righteous way he handled getting fingered — the fact that he went after the guy by name was egregious.

    Likewise, with Lance Armstrong, I don’t mind so much that he cheated — most everyone else he competed against was cheating too — it’s the fact that he suborned perjury, forced other people to take drugs against their will, and lawyered up and won massive monetary judgments against people who correctly alleged that he was doping.

    To the best of my knowledge, Barry Bonds didn’t do any of those things, which is why I frankly don’t care nearly as much about his use.

  38. I was not in the least surprised to see Braun and Uggla looking like best buds out there at 2nd base.

  39. We’re doing fine. We’re getting good wood on everything Bon Yovani can throw at us. Except Gattis, he looked pretty hopeless in the first AB.

  40. Well he did coerce his trainer into not telling the truth and spent a bit of time in jail as a result.

  41. @77 football and everything else gets discussed in here on a regular basis. At least this is baseball related and even relevant to the game we’re watching at the moment.

  42. Seems like these pitchers don’t mind working Heyward up & in…

    #77
    Hey, we’re playing Ryan Braun & the Brew Crew. It’s gonna come up.

  43. @81 Yes, you’re right. He just agreed to spend time in jail out of the kindness of his heart.

  44. So the mere inference of bad behavior on Bonds part is conclusive evidence of his guilt, but not on his prosecutors part.

  45. Lousy strike call at 2-1. But BJ’s just not good enough whenever he has 2 strikes on him to work his way out of it. When he has 2 strikes, I just close my eyes (just like him).

    #81
    Why would he, especially if there was a reward for him at the end of it all?

  46. As someone who had Gallardo on his fantasy team last year, I will say this: Yovani Gallardo blows.

    Braves, please score on him like the ball-throwing, homer-machine he is.

  47. I’m sure those bearer bonds are safely in that numbered Swiss account just waiting for the right moment..

  48. I guess that how replay’s supposed to work.

    #95
    Things do go that way sometimes. I don’t think anyone would spend that much time in jail unless…

  49. If this challenge thing only takes a minute then I’m all for it. Especially when it benefits us.

  50. That replay scenario worked out perfectly. The problem is going to be, how many times will a manager run out there and say to the Ump “Look, I have to stand here and delay this game until my guy in the clubhouse gets a look and tells me whether I have to delay this game.”

    There’s no cost to running out and killing time until you’re sure, right up until you formally ask that the play be reviewed. So is limiting the managers to one challenge going to actually mean anything? You run out there on anything close, while your guy watches a replay, and then asks the umps to watch what he’s already seen.

    Just put a fifth crew member in the pressbox and give the crew chief an ear piece, and keep the old guys in sneakers off the field entirely.

  51. Meanwhile, Bobby Parnell just coughed it up to the Nats. That games tied going to bottom 9.

  52. Two BBs hit to Ramirez. Tough luck.

    BTW, NYM closer Bobby Parnell coughs up the tying run with 2 outs in the top of the 9th. Mets up now.

    Let’s go Mets?

  53. @105 – I mean really, you gotta be. This system definitely favors the red-ass. If you’re not trying to work this system, you aren’t trying to win.

    Unfortunately, with Scheurholtz being the architect, it would look a bit unseemly if it was his manager who hacked his system. I have a feeling Fredi is going to be expected to be more above-board than other managers.

  54. I was really hoping the Braves offense could go out there and perform in such a way that the starting rotation would be largely irrelevant. But this isn’t what I had in mind.

  55. It’s only one game, of course, but last year it certainly had a lotta feast-or-famine on the offensive end.

    So, let’s get through the 8th and… bloop, walk, blast, Kimbrel.

  56. Good morning from Tokyo. Cool to watch the Braves at 5 am. Schlosser looks great. The offense not so much.

  57. Good work by Pickles today. So far, he really seems to be relishing the opportunity.

  58. YG just has a thing where he owns the Braves at Miller Park.

    Oh well go get them tomorrow or Wednesday whenever we play next.

  59. Nine teams in major league history have been shut out on opening day and won over 100 games, but the last time it happened was the 1980 Yankees.

    More recently, the 2002 Angels were shutout on day 1 and won 99.

    The Braves 2005 edition was shutout opening day and won 90, their best finish after being shutout on day 1.

  60. Looks a lot like last year’s team. Let’s hope we have a few torrid 20 games streaks mixed in with our long stretches of futility.

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