The Mets and Braves open their first series of 2008 today in Atlanta. To get the Braves fans’ perspective, I called on Kristi Dosh of Chop-N-Change to answer a few questions.
1. We know Smoltz, Hudson, Glavine, and Hampton all too well. Tell us about Jair Jurrjens — his pitches, his composure, his stamina.
Jair has four pitches: a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a slurve and a change. I’ve also heard he’s really been working on his curve for the last year or so. I’ve seen scouting reports that say his weakness is throwing too many strikes. He looked very composed in his outing Wednesday night, faltering only in the sixth when he gave up a few hits. Overall it was a great first outing though, as he went 5 1/3 innings and gave up only 7 hits and 2 earned runs, while walking only one and striking out five. Braves fans liked what they saw. I’d just like to see him go at least a full six next time.
2. Speaking of Hampton, do you think he will be a key contributor, or are you waiting for another DL stint?
Funny timing you have there. Tonight was his much-anticipated first start since August 2005. Unfortunately, he was scratched from tonight’s game just before the start. The early reports are that he has a strained pectoral muscle and is listed as DTD. All of his injuries, both big and small, have been frustrating for Braves fans, as I’m sure they have been for Hampton as well. Like most Braves fans, I think I’ll anxiously await his next start, all the while waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’d say that most Braves fans weren’t counting on him to contribute much this season after being disappointed by his physical woes in the past, so anything he can contribute will be icing on the cake.
3. You have Kelly Johnson at 2B, Omar Infante behind him, and both Brent Lillibridge and Martin Prado had excellent spring campaigns. Why in the world did you need to grab Ruben Gotay too? And will all these second basemen trot onto the field when Carlos Delgado comes to the plate?
I think Gotay was acquired for his ability to come off the bench as a switch-hitter. I don’t think you’ll see him out in the field much. Unlike some Braves fans, I only feel lukewarm about Prado. I saw Brent Lillibridge in person this spring and thought he looked great, but I prefer him at SS. With Escobar up and doing well, I don’t know that you’ll see Lillibridge up in the Big Show with the Braves. I think it’s highly possible he (or maybe Prado) will be used as a trade chip because we are so heavy on young, talented middle infielders.
4. How does the Braves fan view the New York Mets, particularly considering the Johan Santana trade? For example, do you see the Mets as more or less of a threat compared to the Phillies?
While I’ve heard a lot about the Phillies on the national level, I think most Braves fans are focusing on the Mets first. For the past several years, the Mets have been our main competition, so I think that’s who we’re always most concerned with. That being said, the Phillies certainly showed Braves and Mets fans alike last year that they’re going to demand respect and give us both a run for our money.
I think that between the Mets and Braves this season is really going to come down to whose starting rotation can stay healthy and productive and who can have a more reliable bullpen. Both teams have all the pieces, but they need to stay healthy and fall into place.
5. Generally speaking, are Atlanta fans welcoming Tom Glavine back with open arms? Is there any residual animosity for his decision to run for the money six years ago?
I went to the home opener Monday night and sat front row behind the Braves dugout. As I knew they were approaching Glavine’s name during the pre-game announcement of the team, I prayed that I wouldn’t hear any booing in the stands. I knew that most of us who care enough about the Braves to obsessively discuss them on the internet were happy that Glavine was back, even if we were miffed when he left. However, I have met a few casual fans who are holdouts and refuse to forgive him for what the perceive to be his past betrayal. Obviously they weren’t at the game Monday night though, because I didn’t hear a single boo. Glavine got the biggest ovation by far and I couldn’t have been more thrilled than to sit front row for his return home.
6. What is your biggest concern as a Braves fan this year? Bullpen? Centerfield? Something else?
Right now it’s the bullpen. I definitely think we’ve stacked it with guys that have the potential to form a strong bullpen, but quite a few of them make me nervous. Honestly, at this point the only ones I’m confident in are Moylan (my personal favorite), Soriano, Bennett and Boyer. Hopefully the rest will solidify as the season progresses. I’m also looking forward to the return of Mike Gonzalez hopefully in May.
7. Prediction: who is the MVP of the 2008 Braves, and why?
This is a tough one for me, as I think it could be Chipper or Teixeira. Chipper can always be depended on as long as he’s healthy and Teixeira certainly lived up to his billing last season. I think I might be in the minority, but I’ll go with Chipper if I have to choose one of them. He’s off to a terrific start already – 5 for 13 in the first three games (3 for 3 through the 6th inning tonight) with 6 RBIs. Teixeira tends to heat up as the season goes though, so he’ll give Chipper some stiff competition for that team MVP award!
I can’t pass up this opportunity to mention Yunel Escobar either. He’s going to be hot for the Braves this season and is probably the best young talent on the active roster. He’s 5 for 11 so far (and 1 for 4 tonight through the 6th inning) with 6 RBIs. I’m not picking him for my MVP, however, because he’s young and it’s his first season as a starter. So far he’s living up to his billing though!
Many thanks to Kristi for answering our questions. Be sure to check out Chop-N-Change, which is a great place to get the inside track on the Atlanta Braves.