MLB Handicapping: Braves and Red Sox Share Same Downward Trajectory
by Robert Ferringo - 4/12/2012
The Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves are now joined by something more than their mutual hatred for everything New York. After their epic 2011 September failures the two organizations are now seemingly bound together by a shared distress and ineptitude in this young 2012 Major League Baseball season.
Both Boston and Atlanta went into this year ready to put the brutal memories their monumental collapses last fall behind them. Both of them coughed up postseason berths and both clubs had to endure a long, bitter winter of second-guessing and negative karma.
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But the reality of their hangover season has been as painful to watch as their catastrophic breakdowns were last September and the demons of last season have seemingly carried over into this spring. The Red Sox head into Friday’s home opener just 1-5 after getting lit up by Detroit and Toronto. Atlanta dumped its first four games, including a sweep in New York at the hands of the rival Mets before scrambling to get to 2-4 after a series with Houston.
On Friday both teams will experience their home openers in front of two very nervous, anxious fan bases. Here is a look at each of them and what they need to do (or if they can) get back on track:
BOSTON RED SOX (1-5)
The Red Sox have barely been competitive so far this season. They have been outscored by a cumulative total of 16 runs so far this year and their 38 runs allowed is the worst in the Majors.
But Boston’s issues aren’t just some psychological issue that is exacerbated by their psychotic fan base. The Red Sox have very real problems with their roster. When you mix in the off-field and the clubhouse drama surrounding them those problems compound and you get the mess that we’ve seen through the first week.
Their starting pitching is mediocre at best and pathetic at worst. Jon Lester is still among the top lefties in baseball. But Josh Beckett has had weird injury issues already. And Becket has always been kind of an every-other-year guy. Behind them are a bunch of retreads, unproven arms and wannabes. Clay Buchholz is coming back from injury and is no sure thing and Felix Doubront and Dan Bard have been career relievers for a reason.
Boston’s bullpen is in even worse shape. They made a move to get injury-prone closer Andrew Bailey and then – surprise – he got hurt and is out for several months. The Sox are now scrambling for a closer and that is having a domino effect on the entire back end. Through five games their relievers have a 5.89 ERA, which is the fourth-worst in the league.
I believe that Boston’s lineup is really good enough to compensate for their shaky starters and feeble bullpen. But you can only outscore so many teams. And as the season wears on and the pennant race between the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox and Blue Jays (yes, I am firmly on record as to saying that Toronto will be in the mix all year) heats up, eventually this team will have to find a way to get people out. I don’t know that they will be able to and right now I truly think they are the fourth-best team in their division.
ATLANTA BRAVES (2-4)
I felt like the Braves played above themselves for most of 2011. I wasn’t expecting their collapse, but when they rolled into August with among the best records in baseball I figured that they would come back to reality. I also released a 2012 MLB futures play suggesting that my clients take the Braves to win ‘under’ 87.5 wins because I expect that regression to continue this season.
So their slow start is not a surprise to me.
Atlanta’s problems, like Boston, are more about the roster than about their karma. Like the Sox, the Braves had one of the best starting rotations in baseball through most of last year. But heading into 2012 they are armed with two solid frontline starters and then a bunch of shaky players behind them.
Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson both have excellent stuff and the potential to win 15-20 games. However, last year they were slotted as the No. 3 and No. 4 arms in the Braves stable behind ace Tim Hudson and veteran Derek Lowe. Lowe is in Cleveland and Hudson is working his way into shape from back surgery last November. That moves Jurrjens and Hanson up a few slots and it puts a lot more pressure on those young guns to come through.
But they aren’t the issue. Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado are logging a lot of innings right now and I don’t see any of those three making over 25 starts this season. Also, if none of those guys can become workhorse starters that is going to put a lot of pressure on a bullpen that is going with scrubs like Livan Hernandez (who I bet will start at least five games this year) and Chad Durbin.
Finally, Atlanta’s offense is feast or famine. Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman are guys that can carry an offense when they are hot and sink it when they are not. Jason Heyward is a lifetime .257 hitter and Michael Bourn is up-and-down. Chipper Jones is in his farewell tour and his early arrival off the disabled list was what sparked their series win in Houston. But how many games does he have left in his 39-year-old body?
Atlanta was just No. 22 in the Majors last year in runs scored so it’s not like they were some offensive juggernaut. With most of the same pieces back I think it’s reasonable to expect a lower-half finish in most hitting statistics again this year. And if they aren’t getting the same incredible pitching that they enjoyed last year then I think that a big step back this year is probable.
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Robert Ferringo is a professional sports handicapper for Doc’s Sports. He is considered one of the top MLB cappers in the country and has turned a profit in four of the last six years on the diamond with his baseball picks. He earned $10,500 in profit in 2007, $7,700 in 2009 and closed 2010 with $6,000 in earnings over the last four months. He is looking forward to a great upcoming season against the MLB odds. Click here for more information on his MLB picks.
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