(pictured at right, Bobby Cox ponders another late-inning pitching change)
I remember when the Atlanta Braves won 14 divisonal titles in a row. It seemed like it was just a couple of years ago. Probably because it was. People like me would be handed a blank sheet for their pre-season predictions. Blank, except for NL East, which had Atlanta Braves pre-printed at the top. Last year, the Braves made liars out of the printers, and finished in third. Which they very well might do again. Is it painfully obvious to everyone but me that most top of the rotation starters are inching towards ancient. John Smoltz will be numero uno yet again. I remember his face on Topps trading cards from when Topps trading cards were 31 flavors of hideous and ugly. The Braves nation will pray that Tim Hudson somehow remembers what made him so successful before he became a Brave. Mike Hampton will return to Spring Training this year, followed by many young pitchers that Bobby Cox hopes Leo Mazzone will spin their straw arms into gold. Bobby Cox will then realize that Leo Mazzone left the club before last season. Cox will continue to refer to second-year pitching coach Roger McDowell as Leo anyway. After the season, Cox will take the cyanide capsule he was issued in 1990, and the Braves can make their final move into mid-1980's style suckitude.
Addition and Subtraction
John Schuerholz spent the entire off-season trying to trade Adam LaRoche like he had some kind of cancer (with apologies to Jon Lester... Live strong!), only to realize that once he did, his starting first baseman will be Scott Thorman. That's right, a Canadian first baseman. It's aboot the craziest thing I ever heard. Oh, they signed Craig Wilson? But they haven't decided if Wilson will be a 1B or an OF? Then that changes nothing. Former Pittsburgh closer Mike Gonzalez was the key acquisition in the LaRoche deal. Gonzalez never really had to close in Pittsburgh, so we'll see how he performs when some important games are actually on the line. Schuerholz also spent the entire month of November trying to trade Marcus Giles, but the rest of the league laughed heartily at him, and Giles was non-tendered.
What's the Story with...
Bob Wickman. Atlanta's favorite blimp impersonator closed effectively, but appears to have been replaced by the acquisition of Mike Gonzalez. Or will Gonzalez set up first, acting as a "closer in waiting". And can Bobby Cox remember who is who, even though one looks like David Wells little brother, the other is slim and latino.
The Braves welcome Wee Willie Harris to camp, who has proven unequivocally in stints with the Orioles, White Sox and Red Sex that he's a great base stealer. Trouble is he can't get on base to start with in order to steal said bases.
Bobby Cox hangs it up after this season, with Schuerholz not far behind, and the Braves will be damned to letting the baseball world think that they are dead, until they can find a way to control the raging spirit that dwells within them. Or at least find some guys who can hit without striking out 300 times per season. (Jeff Francouer, I'm looking in your direction)
Tomorrow, who's up for a fish fry in Florida?