The Mets begin the season with a three-game series against the Braves at Citi Field today.
Earlier this week, MetsBlog.com’s Michael Baron spoke with Anthony Almeyda of Braves blog Talking Chop to preview the match up:
Michael Baron: The Braves did not make many changes this past winter despite a monumental fall out of the Wild Card last September. What areas of the club are they looking for improvements from?
Anthony Olmeyda: The Braves missed the playoffs by only one win, and that was despite Derek Lowe and Alex Gonzalez, so their replacements certainly can’t be much worse. Gonzalez’s defense may be missed, but his offense left a lot to be desired. Lowe’s departure means an opportunity for one of the Braves’ young pitchers to jump in and contribute and right now (such as Mike Minor). They’ll be getting a full season out of Michael Bourn, giving the Braves a leadoff hitter they didn’t have for much of last year. Tyler Pastornicky will be given a shot as an everyday shortstop with Jack Wilson as the veteran backup. Tyler may not be as good on defense as Gonzalez was, but he looks like a much better hitter. The Braves also recently acquired Juan Francisco from the Reds to fill in for Chipper at third base. Livan Hernandez and Chad Durbin were signed to keep the younger arms in the bullpen fresh and with Kris Medlen returning from Tommy John surgery, that gives the Braves three extra arms that can be used to ease the burden on “O’Ventbrel”.
Michael Baron: Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters had tremendous seasons last year despite their struggles towards the end of the season. What is a realistic outlook for those players, and do you think the collapse will impact them going forward?
Anthony Olmeyda: O’Flaherty had a career year last year with his 0.98 ERA, but I think it’s unrealistic for him to repeat that performance. But I’d still expect a solid season out of him. As for Venters, we all simply hope his arm doesn’t fall off. He’s thrown 171 innings in his two years and while he’s been very good, we’d like his workload to be a bit lighter, hence the Hernandez and Durbin signings. As far as how September will affect them, I think the whole team will have a bit of extra motivation so that disaster won’t happen again.
Michael Baron: Jason Heyward had a tough sophomore season after an outstanding rookie season. Now that he’s healthy, what is the general expectation for him?
Anthony Olmeyda: I’d expect Heyward to return to 2010 form. 2011 was filled with injuries and he never really got going during the season. He’s worked with new hitting coach Greg Walker in addition to a personal hitting coach on reworking his mechanics and his confidence, and he says it’s paid off. If he stays healthy, the rest of the NL could be in trouble.
Michael Baron: Do you believe this team can overtake the Phillies for the division?
Anthony Olmeyda: I believe they can. The Phillies may be good, but they’re not invincible. Like I stated earlier, the Braves will be extra motivated not to have a repeat of September. Also, the Phillies will be starting the season without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard due to injury, so their offense won’t be as potent the first month of the season. Throw in the unpredictability of a 162-game season, and the Phillies could very well be looking up at the Braves in the NL East at season’s end. Heck, they could very well finish last! That probably won’t happen, though, with their big three of Halladay, Lee and Hamels, but you never know.
Michael Baron: Chipper Jones has been such an outstanding part of the Braves history. As a fan, what do you think has been his standout attribute during his career?
Anthony Olmeyda: It’ll certainly feel strange not seeing Chipper playing anymore. As a fan, I loved watching him hit. He was perhaps the best hitter I’ve had the pleasure of watching, outside of Albert Pujols. He is, in my opinion, one of the top three switch hitters in MLB history next to Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray. To me, that is his most visible attribute and why he will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer at Cooperstown. He was loyal to the Braves when he could’ve sought more money elsewhere and made sacrifices if he felt they benefited the team, such as restructuring his contract or moving to the outfield. Such longevity with one franchise is rare now and I’m glad he was a Brave. Thanks, Todd Van Poppel!
To learn more about the Braves and their upcoming season, be sure to check out TalkingChop.com.