Posted: 11:40 am Monday, March 24th, 2014

Reasons to like Braves’ chances? Here’s two 

By David O'Brien

DARK STAR, Fla. – As the Braves try to figure out the best way to fill a patchwork starting rotation for the first weeks of the season and hope they can weather the potential early storm until reinforcements arrive off the disabled list, you, Mr. or Ms. Braves Fan, might be asking yourself what is something that you can cling to, something to make you feel better about the team’s chances.

And I’m here to provide you with not one, but two such items: 1. Us-against-the-world mentality, otherwise known as a team coming together in the face of adversity and becoming more driven and determined to prove skeptics wrong; and 2. (admittedly this might be even more important, especially if you don’t believe in that rah-rah stuff from No. 1) The schedule.

So what if everyone's picking Nats to win the East? Gerald Laird says they were picking them last year, too.

So what if everyone’s picking Nats to win the East? Gerald Laird says they were picking them last year, too.

But first, that us-against-the-world mentality. A team’s collective psyche is usually steered by the outspoken veterans. These Braves have one in backup catcher Gerald Laird, who spoke with teammates recently after Medlen and Beachy went down, about how his 2011 Cardinals team lost returning 20-game winner Adam Wainwright to Tommy John surgery in February. And went on to win 90 games and a wild card berth, then won three postseason series including the World Series.

A year ago, the Nationals were a near-unanimous pick among baseball pundits to win not just the NL East, but the league pennant. The Braves held a 4-1/2-game lead after 13 games (including an April 12-14 sweep in Washington) and were 10 games ahead of Washington by July 30, which is where they were when the season ended – with a 96-66 record and the division title, 10 games ahead of the Nats.

Now, after the Braves’ injury-marred spring training and the loss of their planned opening-day starter Medlen along with former and they had hoped once-again top-of-rotation guy Beachy, plus the early absence of Minor, it seems to have shifted public opinion back toward the Nationals, once again a popular NL East favorite among seemingly a majority of national writers and pundits.

Enter Laird.

“We’re in the same spot as last year,” Laird told me a few days ago. “We won the division. When we were healthy (entering camp this year), we were really good – everybody was saying, ‘The Braves are still a really good team.’ But now everyone’s really picking the Nationals like they did last year, saying, ‘Oh, they’ve got the rotation.’ Well you know what? They had the rotation last year. I’m not saying anything bad about them – that’s a great ballclub over there. But that’s why you play 162 games. You never know what’s going to happen.”

Laird added: “We are the the definitely National League East champions, and we’re not just going to fold. We’ve got a good ballclub. You add a frontline starter (Santana) and now we have a really good ballclub. We’re going to be tough to beat.”

So that’s No. 1. Now, the potentially more important No. 2.

The Braves’ early schedule a year ago was brutal, the most difficult road schedule in baseball for the first two months. And they handled it superbly.

Now, with a pitching staff diminished by injuries and the Braves needing to hold it together and at least stay close until they get Ervin Santana in the second week and Minor and Gavin Floyd as soon as late April, the Braves could benefit from a schedule that’s the inverse of the one they handled so well with their strong, healthy rotation early last season.

Here’s some points about this year’s schedule by comparison:

Last year, the Braves played 16 of their first 24 games on the road, including Washington, Pittsburgh, Colorado and Detroit. This year, 12 of the first 25 are home, and Washington is the only April road opponent with a winning record in 2013.

In May, the Braves have a pair of nine-game homestands, and the May 12-14 series at San Francisco is the lone trip out west before June 4. Again, the contrast: In 2013, the Bravos played 11 games in Mountain or Pacific time zones before May 16.

By June, the Braves could have their rotation humming, with Floyd in his second month back from Tommy John and a potentially strong back-of-rotation in a unit that could – barring further injuries – be among the league’s best with Teheran, Santana, Minor and Alex Wood. Operative words: Could and potentially.

It would certainly benefit them to be at full strength by June, when the Braves have only nine home games in June. That’s not good for attendance – it’s usually the first month the Braves draw well during the week, since kids are out of school. There is but one home weekend series in June, while there are three apiece in May and July.

The Braves should have opportunities to pile up some wins on both sides of the All-Star break – they have a seven-game trip against the Mets and Cubs before the break, and a season-long 11-game homestand after it against the Phillies, Marlins and Padres.

It would help to have a lead entering August, or at worst to be close to the lead, because that month shapes up as probably the roughest on the Braves schedule: a West Coast trip (San Diego, Seattle), followed by a 10-game homestand against the Nationals, Dodgers and Athletics, then a 10-game, 11-day trip to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and New York (Mets).

If the they are in a division race entering September, the Braves could benefit from a schedule that has 12 games against the Phillies, Marlins and Mets, plus six head-to-head games with the Nats. Plus, 10 of their final 13 games are at Turner Field.

Alex Wood came to camp figuring to battle for the fifth rotation spot. Now he could be a key to the Braves holding things together in the first weeks of the season.

Alex Wood came to camp figuring to battle for the fifth rotation spot. Now he could be a key to the Braves holding things together in the first weeks of the season.

In his ESPN.com blog, Buster Olney ranked the Braves’ early season schedule as the easiest among the 15 National League teams, just ahead of the Diamondbacks and Dodgers (yes, the Dbacks and Dodgers had to go to Australia and disrupt their spring routines and all, but at least their schedules once they get home are less-than-demanding in April and May).

Buster noted that the Braves play only 12 of their first 40 games against teams with .500 or better records in 2013.

Speaking of Medlen: Most of you know what a really good guy he is, funny and unpretentious, big in the community with charities and all that. But to give you an example of why teammates love him, and a glimpse at how much he cares about teammates and wants the best for them, consider his answer when I asked him last month, in the immediate aftermath of the fifth and final long-term extension that the Braves gave out, about what he thought of those contracts.

And you should know that I didn’t have to leave anything out here, no off-the-record bitterness, no him saying or insinuating that he deserved a multi-year deal himself – nothing like that. Honestly. (If I did, I wouldn’t be bringing this up, I’d just have let it pass. And let me say, if the roles were reversed and I was the guy in his shoes, I’d have told the reporter, off record, that I, the pitcher with the second-best ERA among MLB starters since the 2012 All-Star break, was getting the short end of the stick and deserving of at least a two- or three-year deal.)

Anyway, this is what Medlen said. I started by asking him about the difference in contracts between what Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons got from the Braves (seven years, $58 million) and former Braves shortstop prospect Elvis Andrus got from the Rangers (eight years, $120 million) and which one of those guys he’d rather have on his team.

“I’ve played with both of them. I’m a little bias, but I love the guy we have,” Medlen said, then continued with a comment about all of the Braves’ contract extensions, all given to players 25 or younger. “I just think the situation with all of them, it was either going to be at this time or they were going to start getting very, very expensive. So I think the organization made a smart move that helps out both sides. I mean, I know all the guys are happy with (the deals) because they agreed to them, but I know the team needed to do that to keep them around, especially the way this market is and what guys are getting now.

“I’m extremely happy for all these guys. They’re some of the best in the league. They’re this organizations’ future, and I’m just excited for them.”

Did he think the Braves might give him one next? No, he didn’t. But he left it at that, no complaint whatsoever. On or off record. Medlen had his second Tommy John surgery last week, and he’s on a one-year, $5.8 million contract. There is no guarantee he will be re-signed.

By the way, just one more thing about Medlen. He provided one of the funniest moments for me all spring when I asked him about Beachy, whose locker is next to his in the spring-training clubhouse. This was in late February, when Beachy’s recovery from September arthroscopic elbow surgery was going well, a few weeks before he blew out again and had his second TJ surgery last week.

I was asking Medlen about Beachy’s work habits and how he appeared to be in about the best condition of anyone on the team, save for perhaps Jason Heyward. And Medlen couldn’t resist poking fun (Beachy wasn’t around) at his pal, who is, let’s just say, popular among much of the female portion of Braves fans in a way that Javy Lopez was.

“I mean, I’m in shape but I don’t look like that,” Medlen said. “Body types and whatever else. He could be the, I mean you’re walking through the mall and your hear the (and this is where it got hilarious, as Medlen suddenly broke into human beatbox thing, emulating electronic or heavy-bass music or something) at Abercrombie & Fitch and you look over and smell all that cologne in that little part of the mall, and you look over and Brandon Beachy is doing a shirtless flex job on the pictures for Abercrombie. I mean, he’s that guy. I think even if he weren’t a baseball player, he would still look exactly the same and all that.

“I mean, wait a second. He’s one of the hardest workers in the clubhouse, but he’s also gifted with the rack, as they would say.”

Don’t ask. Medlen is a Southern Cali guy. Straight brim and regional slang. Words don’t mean the same for us all.

But a funny, funny dude. And obviously a great quote. Damn you, Tommy John.

• OK, here’s a great tune by the band Girls, off of their Album 3. Click here to hear it.

“ALEX” by Girls

Alex has blue eyes,
well who cares? no I don’t
If somebody somewhere cries,

Girls

Girls


well who cares? No you don’t.

and Alex has a band,
so who cares about war?
If somebody somewhere dies,
well who cares? No you don’t.

Alex has black hair,
and who cares? well I do.
You’ve got a lovely smile,
I could spend a while with that smile.

and Alex has a boyfriend,
oh well, I’m in hell.
I’ll sing you a song,
Would you listen to a lover’s song?

Would you hold my hand?
I’m as cold as the snow
If you said let’s go,
I would follow.

Could we fall in love?
Well who cares about love.
Could we run away?

Anywhere, anyway, only you …

5005 comments
Lemke_Knuckler
Lemke_Knuckler

Not to pat myself on the back, but as one of the co-founders of the Gus Schlosser fan club and a consistent predictor of Ian Thomas success, I think I deserve an extra coffee this morning for exceptional acts of clairvoyance.

CB_
CB_

It's a shame we don't have 365 opening days. You get up and the air just smells fresher, the coffee tastes better then there is bacon! God bless OD.

richbrave
richbrave

Is we on tha' t.v. today? MLBN or ESPN? Can't count on FOX showing anything but the RED SOX or STANKEES around here.

CobbBraveNightmare
CobbBraveNightmare

VJ, you really need to see someone to try and determine why you carry so much stored hostility.

According to docs, I have 19-months left. You know this. You ride me relentlessly. You've got a serious problem boy.

CobbBraveNightmare
CobbBraveNightmare

Another thing VJ, I'd appreciate it if you'd just skip my posts from now on, which you've professed to do before. I've never seen anyone so threatened by the intellect of another. That's the only motive I can apply to your singling me out for sadist attacks. I know what I'm talking about when it comes to this sorta scenario, you can count on that.

Terminator
Terminator

My prediction is the blog will be busy, and ready, and the busiest it's been since the winter season, and off season, and a lot of trolls.

Terminator
Terminator

I bet Old_Man & ZAZ will be armed, and ready when Uggla comes up to bat, and BJ.

Terminator
Terminator

Yeah, but is anyone looking forward to Nick? I hope DOB has the Ban button working tomorrow on him.

VeniceJim
VeniceJim

Looking forward to Tomahawkin' showing up just before the game in the morning and telling those of us who have been here for the past 6 months to get out of his way...

VeniceJim
VeniceJim

Nobody on the road
Nobody on the beach
I feel it in the air
The summer's out of reach
Empty lake, empty streets
The sun goes down alone
I'm driving by your house
Though I know you're not home
But I can see you-
Your brown skin shinin' in the sun
You got your hair combed back and your sunglasses on, baby
And I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the boys of summer have gone
I never will forget those nights
I wonder if it was a dream
Remember how you made me crazy?
Remember how I made you scream
Now I don't understand what happened to our love
But babe, I'm gonna get you back
I'm gonna show you what I'm made of
I can see you-
Your brown skin shinin' in the sun
I see you walking real slow and you're smilin' at everyone
I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the boys of summer have gone
Out on the road today, I saw a DEADHEAD sticker on a Cadillac
A little voice inside my head said, "Don't look back. You can never look back"
I thought I knew what love was
What did I know?
Those days are gone forever
I should just let them go but-
I can see you-
Your brown skin shinin' in the sun
You got that top pulled down and that radio on, baby
And I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the boys of summer have gone
I can see you-
Your brown skin shinin' in the sun
You got that hair slicked back and those Wayfarers on, baby
I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the boys of summer have gone

VeniceJim
VeniceJim

For Roger Kahn...and tomorrow...what we all wait for...

CobbBraveNightmare
CobbBraveNightmare

Welp, I'm going to bed so I'll have plenty of energy tomorrow. Gonna be farred-up beyond belief!

And yes, I hate the Brewers, to a damned man. If there are women in the Brewers front office (not gender-biased) and ticket departments, I hate them too, along with all male colleagues. And for the next couple days, I hate the folks of Milwaukee, each and every one.. I'll also abstain from all cheese-products & Wisconsin-brewed beers. Why y'all think I got my dogs off Cheetos?

CobbBraveNightmare
CobbBraveNightmare

Love to see BJ and Dan get off to rousing starts tomorrow. Where the Heck has Old Man been? And ZAZ? 

JAFO_
JAFO_

sec crushing the bball idiots. and i dont give a damn.

VeniceJim
VeniceJim

Nice usage of The Gambler on The Americans...

BFChris29
BFChris29

I am extremely excited :)


I just purchased MLB.tv and will get to see Braves games this year!!!!

JAFO_
JAFO_

Late night with the boy playing ball at east cobb go 2-3 and arrive home to see codgers implode with wilson at the helm. how perfect.

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

I feel like this is a watershed moment for major league baseball. The replay genie is out of the bottle.

VeniceJim
VeniceJim

Enjoying being so much into a game, and the Braves haven't started yet...

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

It looks like the wealthiest team in all the land will not go 173-0 afterall this year.

VeniceJim
VeniceJim

Lying in bed, just like Brian Wilson did...

ncscoots
ncscoots

@Lemke_Knuckler  So, you wouldn't like to see them pitch an inning or two before accepting the congratulatory telegrams? :-)

Lemke_Knuckler
Lemke_Knuckler

But I also predicted Medlen would win 20+ game and then...well, you know.  

Mixxo
Mixxo

@Jeff_R  

:-)

I did sound for her one time. Very sweet girl.

Rick_C
Rick_C

@richbrave  Fox SportsSouth if you're in the region, otherwise you'll need MLB.TV or an "extra legal" stream.

VeniceJim
VeniceJim

@YourWorstNightmare  You are a really sick person...your amazing ability to transfer hatred should make us all quiver.  Perhaps you should leave the blog for being such a psychopathic individual...

Jeff_R
Jeff_R

@RabbitMaranville1914 The replay is idiotic.  Baseball should be baseball, and not try to be "relevant" by aping pro football.   

VeniceJim
VeniceJim

Now we wait to see whether or not he considers this to be a serious comment...

CobbBraveNightmare
CobbBraveNightmare

@VeniceJim  

I do consider it a serious post, but now that I realize you're a bona-fide sadist, it doesn't bother me, you can't resist. You know that everything I say in such a vein is based in humor, you KNOW I don't hate those folks that I have NO possible interest in hating! You just do it to upset me. I believe you know the health I'm in, and if at all possible, you'd like to cause me to drop dead. I can come up with no other determination or motive for your actions.

You can call a silly old man a psychopath, but I can sincerely call you a sadist, and you have no excuses... You've proven it.

You're a sickening human being who tries to be DOB when DOB is away. You've even picked-up posting a song, and trying to tell everyone else how to be the perfect commentor. Even DOB can't stand you, and stands on your throat every time you open your mouth.

Screw you, and the horse you rode in on!