Friday November 28, 2014

2014 World Series: Braves vs. Angels


You heard it here first. This October the 2014 World Series will see the 2014 National League champion Atlanta Braves take on the American League champion Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim).

It’s a bold prediction to be sure, what with each team still having 159 games left on their schedule. Add to that that neither team is a favourite to win the World Series, the Angels odds are 15-1 and the Braves are at 17-1 odds while the favourite Los Angeles Dodgers are 5-1, and it looks downright ridiculous.

But do not fret. There is a method behind this madness.

You see, both the Braves and Angels have something to prove this season after one (LAA) had an extremely horrible 2013 finishing 74-84 while the other (ATL) simply choked when it made it to the post season losing in four games to the Dodgers in the National League Division Series (NLDS). That in itself will make two strong teams all the more dangerous.

Let’s first take a look at the Atlanta Braves. On the surface the Braves look like a hurting 40 man unit.  Two of their top pitchers, Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen, are both out for the season and need Tommy John surgery to repair torn ligaments and tendons.

They lost starting back catcher Brian McCann to the New York Yankees and return the majority of an offensive line-up that struck out 1384 times last season, third highest among MLB teams.

Their current starting rotation of veteran journeyman Aaron Harang, Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and David Hale has just 366 career MLB starts, 319 of them by Harang. But keep in mind that the Braves will be adding nine year MLB veteran Ervin Santana (9-10, 3.24 ERA in 2013) to the rotation as early as mid-April as well as Mike Minor (13-9, 3.21 ERA in 2013). Gavin Floyd (0-4, 5.18 ERA in 2013) will return to the MLB sometime in May after undergoing Tommy John surgery last May to repair a torn flexor muscle and UCL and will bring another veteran arm to the Braves.

And of course they still have Craig Kimbrel in the closers role. Should Atlanta take a one or two run lead into the eighth inning they can begin to celebrate a win because Kimbrel will once again be lights out and will once again hover around the 45-50 save mark.

We’ll take a peek at the offence now. While it did strike out 1384 times, the aforementioned offensive line-up also walked 542 times, sixth most in the MLB and hit 181 homeruns (fifth best).

Freddy Freeman will once again hit for average and power and while he might not hit .319 this year his homerun total should be higher (he hit 23 in 2013) and his RBI total, which was already impressive at 109 in 2013, should also rise.

Dan Uggla (22 HR, 55 RBI, .179) and BJ Upton (9 HR, 26 RBI, .184) will both have bounce back years after each player had a horrendous 2013 season while the rest of the offence, Tyler Pastornicky, Andrelton Simmons, Ryan Doumit, Gerald Laird, Ramiro Pena, Jordan Schafer and Chris Johnson will all put up numbers that are expected of them.

But I can still hear you mentioning who will play behind the plate, saying, “But Randy, what about the loss of McCann? The Braves certainly won’t recover from that.”

Let me tell you that although the loss hurts, they have someone just as good behind the plate this year. Evan Gattis will be the Braves every day catcher this year after announcing his MLB presence last season with 21 dingers and 65 RBI as an injury replacement for McCann.

His outstanding play in 2013 made McCann’s departure a whole lot more bearable for Braves fans. Expect his numbers to increase as he sees more action (he played in just 105 games last year).

All things considered the Braves will finish 94-68 for first place in the N.L. East.

Now let’s take a gander at the Angels.

A horrible 2013 at 78-84 resulted in what some might call a fairly big shake up on the mound.

Out are starting pitchers Jerome Williams, Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton. Replacing them will be young southpaw Tyler Skaggs and righty Hector Santiago, both of whom were acquired by the Angels on December 10, 2013 in a three team deal that saw LAA send Mark Trumbo to the Arizona Diamondbacks (Skaggs came from Arizona while Santiago spent 2013 with the other team involved in the deal, the Chicago White Sox).

Skaggs will be a quality fifth arm for the Angels while Santiago will, most likely, have a breakout season in 2014 due to being given more responsibility on a team that has more talent than his former club the White Sox (Santiago’s career numbers are 8-10 with a 3.41 ERA in 27 starts).

As for their returning starting pitchers, the trio of C.J.Wilson, Jered Weaver and Garrett Richards will once again suit up for the Angels.

Wilson and Weaver will be the one-two punch that the Angels will need to dominate games should they want to make it to the World Series, however I don’t see a problem there.

Weaver will be looking to prove to everyone that he deserves the title of Angels ace after a less-than-Weaverish 11-8 record and 3.27 ERA in 2013, one year after he was 20-5 with a 2.81 ERA.

Luckily for the Angels, Weaver will be 100% healed from his fractured elbow that no doubt plagued him for the majority of 2013 despite his insistence that he was fine.

Wilson, meanwhile, will once again be his usual self if he can stay healthy. The 6’1’’, 210 pound lefty went 17-7 last year with a 3.39 ERA.

The bullpen is the only area where the Angels might struggle in 2014. Closer Ernesto Frieri returns, as do Kevin Jepsen and Michael Kohn, but three relief pitchers, 2013 innings eater Dane De La Rosa as well as Sean Burnett and Brian Moran will start 2014 on the injured list. The Angels in 2013 finished just 24th overall last year in combined pitching with an ERA of 4.23.

Offensively the Angels will also continue to hit for a strong average overall. In 2013 the Angels hit for a collective .264 average, fifth best in the MLB. Their On base Plus Slugging (OPS) was also fifth overall at .743 and their 39 triples were good enough for second best, just four shy of Milwaukee’s 43.

The Angels offence will be without Trumbo of course, as he is now a D-Back, but their line up still boasts the likes of Albert Pujols, David Freese, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Josh Hamilton, Raul Ibanez and of course Mike Trout; arguably the most dynamic player in baseball today.

So in short, if the Angels revamped pitching staff can provide quality pitching and the bullpen can buckle down in times of need the Angels will return to 2011 and 2012 form finishing 90-72 to clinch a Wildcard spot.

This time, however, they’ll end up in the World Series.

Where they will lose in six games to the Atlanta Braves.



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