Offense: Andrelton Simmons-SS, Jason Heyward-RF, Justin Upton-LF, Freddie Freeman-1B, Brian McCann-C, Dan Uggla-2B, Chris Johnson-3B, Reed Johnson-CF. Bench: Evan Gattis-C/1B/OF/Janitor, Gerald Laird-C, Paul Janish-INF, Tyler Pastornicky-IF, Jose Constanza-OF, Joe Terdoslavich-1B/OF.
Last year Braves fans were touting Andrelton Simmons as the next great short stop, because a strong 90 game rookie season always means the best for a player's future. The BABIP gods have been most unkind to the young man, so we'll have to wait and see if that's a real issue or just misfortune. He's pretty fantastic defensively though, so even if he only winds up being a slightly below average hitter, he'll still be pretty valuable. If he could learn how to steal bases effectively (which Alexei Ramirez has shown is something that can happen as one ages), he'll be an even more valuable weapon. That being said, a man with an OBP below .300 should not be anywhere near the top of the lineup. Jason Heyward is a man with similar issues. When healthy and with a BABIP above .300, Heyward is the young All-Star/MVP candidate everyone dreamed he would become. When injured (which seems to be an issue) and with a BABIP below .300 (odd numbered seasons), he's just another cog in an efficient team machine. He's one of the best right fielders in baseball, so even in his off years he'll bring value. But he still is young and should hopefully continue developing into a cornerstone piece of the franchise.
Otherwise he runs the risk of becoming something akin to Justin Upton. Upton made the foolish mistake of hitting very well as a 20-year-old, thus placing unreasonably high expectations on the rest of his career. Other than his 43 games as a 19-year-old, he's yet to be a below average hitter in the majors. But people seem to believe he needs to be a Hall of Fame talent to be worth a damn, so he continues to disappoint those people. Those people suck. That being said, he's had a weird year. 12 homeruns in April have been followed by just four since with seemingly little reason for this oddball collapse into blandness. He's a bit crappy defensively. Freddie Freeman is yet another Brave you look at and think "You should be better. WHY ARE YOU NOT BETTER?!" but then you see he's somehow yet another Brave under 25 and you think "I should care so much less about baseball and not throw interrobangs around like so much confetti". You're a complicated person full of emotions. It's okay, most of us are. Freeman isn't bad by any means, but you just kind of expect more out of a first baseman, especially an All-Star (of dubious nature). Will he develop 30+ homerun power? Maybe eventually, but not this year. Is this new ability to hit .300 real? No. No it is not, unless you believe in slow-footed men with .373 BABIPs. Throw in the fact that he's already bad defensively and you have a left-handed Paul Konerko sans power.
Brian McCann has been the best hitter in Atlanta this year, and he's needed to be. He'll be a free agent soon and quickly learned while hurt no more to turn his head; because he knows a frightful fiend doth close behind him tread. McCann still has great power for a catcher and a dang good batting eye and some fool team this winter is going to give him too much money. He's fairly unremarkable behind the plate, but not in a bad way. He's just fine defensively, not good but not bad either. Which hey, that's an okay way to be when you're a pretty awesome hitter so good job Brian, I continue to be a fan. I am not a fan of Dan Uggla though, because he has committed an unforgivable sin. His last name is Uggla and he plays for Atlanta yet he has not chosen Bubba Sparxxx's debut single "Ugly" as his at bat music. WHY?! IT IS THE PERFECT CHOICE! It's a fantastic song by an artist from the state and it perfectly describes Dan's playing style! Dan Uggla is strong and walks a lot. Everything else is hideous. I'm talking defensive play like he was trapped in the La Brea Tar Pits, slowly sinking to his demise while booting groundballs. Baserunning like he woke up one day to discover that his right knee has somehow been reconstructed with balsa wood and his left knee was powered by three racist Syrian hamsters with gout. But yeah, the dude hits dingers.
Chris Johnson accompanied Justin Upton to the Peach State this winter. I'm not sure how many innocents he has sacrificed to R'Hollor, but it has to be at least a gross. That is the only way to explain how he has a freaking .415 BABIP through 78 games. It's just stupid at this point. That .330 average looks really nice and all, but it's a dingdang mirage! His peripherals are all pretty much the same with a slight down tick in power and strikeouts, but come on! HOW IS HE DOING THIS? If he understood that a third baseman was meant to play defense and not just do whatever the heck they want over there, he'd be having an All-Star kind of season. But he plays defense like I give strangers on the train lapdances: awkwardly, drunkenly, and without grace. Does Reed Johnson still have that terrible facial hair? I refuse to actually look. Johnson peaked in 2006 and has continued to exist as a fratty looking 4th outfielder who fills in when the B.J. Uptons of the world hurt themselves. Those are the only words I have for Mr. Johnson.
Remember that awful song that the White Sox decided they would sometimes play before games this season to remind you how much you hate yourself? Tim Hudson actually uses that as his intro music. Non-ironically. I finally feel vindicated for liking him the least of Oakland's Big Three (still miss you, Mark Mulder). Hudson's effective longevity is mostly due to the fact that he thrives as a groundballer which is maybe the second least stressful style of pitching on the arm. I guess just lobbing the ball up there is less stressful too, but it doesn't seem very effective. I'll do some more research and get back to you guys. Hudson throws a sinker in the low-90s, a cutter, a splitter, and a curveball. I'm just guessing at the other two starters, since the probables haven't been released to the Sox's site yet because the Braves are a bunch of crampons or something. Wait, why does crampon not have a squiggly under it? I taught my computer the word crampon? The hell is wrong with me? Paul Maholm is also a groundballer, but not as drastically as Mr. Hudson. He finally tasted the postseason last year, but only for one brief game when things rapidly fell apart. But hey, at least he's not in Pittsburgh, right? /looks up the Pirates record and weeps. Maholm has a sinker in the upper-80s and five more pitches if you like to believe in Brooks Baseball's classifications. I do. My favorite is this "slow curve" label. He's thrown it 20 times this year and it travels to the plate at 63.7 MPH. I really, really want to see this pitch this weekend.
Kris Medlen had one of those godly seasons last year in which everything goes right. ERA below 2? Check. LOB% of unsustainable nature? You betcha! Homeruns allowed able to fit on a standard die? Well ... yeah, but that's a strange measurement. This year? Icarus done fell back to earth, son. Runners stopped being stranded, dingers resumed their natural flight patterns, and ERAs rose back to normal human levels. Despondency reigns supreme. Hope is lost. Medlen isn't bad, he's just not the ace he deceptively seemed to be last year. He chucks a low-90s fastball, a changeup, a curve, and a cutter. Craig Kimbrel continues to be a really, really good closer. Seriously, his career K/9 is 15.5 with a career K/BB of 4.55. Those are video game numbers right there. While he's already given up this year's allotment of homeruns (he gives up three per year, it's really odd), he's still having one heck of a season. 94.5 LOB%! 94.5! That's unreal! His fastball sits in the upper-90s and he mixes it in with a curveball that hits the upper-80s and makes crops fail and livestock flounder.
Outlook: It's a three game series, the worst kind to predict because you guys are a bunch of dingdongs who pay attention to those. Braves win 2-1.