The 8-7 Braves come to Flushing this weekend for a three-game series against the 7-9 Mets. With the two teams fairly close in regard to won-loss records, this is an important matchup for the first month of the season. Two weekend wins by the Mets puts them a half-game behind the Bravos, while a sweep sends them ahead and into the running for the NL East lead. On the other hand, if the Mets lose the series or get swept, it will bury them into a deep hole that will take quite an effort to emerge from.
Luckily for the Mets, the Braves look good on paper but haven’t exactly set the world afire. To give us some insight on what’s going on in Atlanta, I’ve called on fellow ESPN SweetSpot blogger Peter Hjort of Capitol Avenue Club to answer some questions about the Braves.
My questions are in bold, Peter’s answers in the blue boxes.
1. Seems like every time you turn on the TV or radio — even here in NY — you hear something about Jason Heyward. How do you compare him, right now, to where Andruw Jones was in Jones’ rookie season?
The hype is similar. Andruw Jones was one of the best prospects of all time, but Heyward is a similarly elite prospect. Andruw was rated BA’s #1 overall pre 1996 and pre 1997, Jason Heyward was rated BA’s #5 overall pre 2009 and #1 overall pre 2010. Andruw was a bit underwhelming–offensively at least–during his rookie year, hitting only .231/.329/.416 and stealing 20 bases at a 65 per cent success rate. Right now, Heyward is hitting like Adrian Gonzalez (.269/.397/.558), and if he keeps it up he’ll end up having a much better season than Andruw’s rookie year.
2. Martin Prado is quietly having a great start in Heyward’s shadow. Can he keep it up throughout the year? Why or why not?
Well, he’s obviously not going to hit .417 all year, but I’m expecting a very nice season from Prado. He’s hit .315/.369/.459 during his MLB career, which is about what I expect going forward.
3. Do you miss Javy Vazquez?
Yes. A lot. Javy was one of my favorite players on the team last year. I understand why the Braves traded him, but I do still miss him quite a bit. It was a joy to watch him pitch. A lot of Yankees’ fans don’t seem to appreciate Vazquez, which is a shame, really. It’s also very idiotic. If some Yankees fans really thinks trading Melky Cabrera for a guy coming off a Cy Young type season hurt their ballclub, they need a labotomy.
4. He’s in a slump now, but will it be tough to watch Jeff Francoeur have a comeback year for the Mets? (Not saying he will, but wondering how you’ll feel if he does.)
No. I hate the guy both for all the wins he cost the Braves over the years and for personal reasons that I won’t discuss here. The day he was traded was one of the happier ones of my life. I couldn’t care less what he does, so long as it’s not in Atlanta. And, honestly, what does a comeback year for Francoeur look like? .300/.330/.450? No thanks.
5. How confident do you feel late in games with Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito closing things out?
I’ve always been extremely confident in Wagner. Two weeks ago I would’ve said “no” on Saito, given his age, injury history, and the fact that he wasn’t particularly effective in 2009. But Saito has pitched extremely well–both statistically and from other talent evaluation perspectives–these first few weeks. The bullpen is the biggest strength of the team and I have a ton of confidence late in games, probably more so than I’ve had since John Smoltz was a full time relief pitcher. Furthermore, this may be the best bullpen, top to bottom, the Braves have ever had.
6. I thought Jonny Venters was a blues guitarist (I guess that was Johnny Winters); who is he and will he be making noise as the season progresses?
Jonny Venters was a 30th round draft pick out of Indian River Community College in Fort Pierce, FL in 2003. He’s been used primarily as a starter for his minor league career, mostly with pretty bad numbers. He’s not going to make a lot of noise, really, he’s not a late-innings reliever and likely won’t ever be, but his mid-90’s sinker from the left side will probably be one of Bobby’s favorite toys this season.
7. The Vazquez – Melky Cabrera deal seemed to be more about clearing cash for Troy Glaus and otherr winter pickups. Is that how it went down and if so do you feel the Braves made the right moves?
Yes, the Vazquez-Cabrera deal was strictly about saving money. The good news is the Braves got Arodys Vizcaino, an elite pitching prospect, in the deal. I think the Braves made the right moves, given the situation they were in. I thought the Takashi Saito signing was a waste of cash at the time, but, like I said, he’s been fantastic. A lot of key players become arbitration eligible for the first time this upcoming off season, specifically Martin Prado, Yunel Escobar, and Jair Jurrjens. If trading Vazquez means keeping that trio around (along with Tim Hudson), I think it was a good move.
8. The Braves look great on paper, and so far are in the thick of things in the NL East. What are the keys to them getting into the postseason?
Right now four or five of the regulars (depending on how you count Matt Diaz) are slugging sub-300. Getting everyone on track is pretty much what the Braves need. Like you said, they look good on paper, it’s just a matter of guys doing what we expect them to. Of course, dealing with this mess of a LF situation–getting rid of all the tweeners and acquiring a real LF’er–certainly wouldn’t hurt.
9. Is Bobby Cox REALLY going to retire at the end of the year? If so, who is next in line?
I guess. I can’t know for sure, but all signs seem to indicate he will stay true to his word and hang up the spikes at year’s end. I don’t know who is next in line, though. The organization has been predictably tight lipped about the situation.
Thanks again to Peter for giving us the scoop. Be sure to check out Capitol Avenue Club for all things Braves.