Counting Down

Four more days until pitchers and catchers. Seventeen more days until Grapefruit league. Fifty days until Opening Day.

I can’t wait. The Braves had a great offseason — it’s just flying under the radar because of OMG CLIFF LEE BEST TEAM EVER GREAT ROTATION OR THE GREATEST ROTATION. But you can make the argument that they’re the second-best team in the league, behind Philadelphia.

Here’s what I like about the 2011 Braves: Last year, they won 91 games. This year, they can reasonably expect to be equal or better at almost every single position. Only the bullpen looks to be worse. Sure, they’re not a flawless team — but all their flaws exposed themselves last year, and it’s hard to feature them being any worse at those places. Even if Freddie Freeman struggles, he can’t be any worse than the Troy Glaus Show. Even if Nate McLouth can’t drag himself back to his 2008 or 2009 form, he more or less bottomed out in 2010 — center field can’t exactly get any worse. Same deal for left — even if Martin Prado isn’t your ideal left fielder, his competition here is Melky Cabrera, and a sofa cushion could win that matchup. I pretty much loathe Alex Gonzalez, but not enough to blind myself to the fact that he’s a perfectly serviceable shortstop. The average scenario is the Braves being more or less exactly what they were last year, which is a 90-win team. In the NL right now, that’s a Wild Card berth.

And the upside — the Braves have as much young talent as anybody in the league, with the exception of Tampa Bay — and they’ve accumulated that young talent without sacrificing their chances of winning now. Jason Heyward is the most exciting young player in the game. The more I hear about Freddie Freeman, the more I like him. The Braves have young pitching coming out of their ears… and they’ve still got Brian McCann, Dan Uggla, Tim Hudson, and Chipper Jones to form the core of the team. And there’s more on the way. Julio Teheran could be up by the end of the year. It’s an exciting time to be a Braves fan. The Phillies can only paper over their holes with high-priced free agent signings so many times.

Really, though, I just want to see baseball again. Even if the Braves stunk, I still miss just having the sport around. Winter is so slow and boring… baseball fills up all the empty spaces in my life with its constant presence. The hot stove is okay, but you can only read about how unhappy Michael Young is so often before you start to itch for real baseball, not just the promise of it. I need photographs of players playing catch in the Florida sunshine and fluff pieces about how guys are in the best shape of their lives. I need ludicrous prospect comparisons and manager hyperbole. I need stolen bases and putouts and walks and diving catches. I need a game on Monday, a game on Wednesday, a game on Saturday, and two games on Sunday. I need baseball.

Four more days until pitchers and catchers. Seventeen more days until Grapefruit league. Fifty days until Opening Day.

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