Opening Day is here! Now, it is time to answer two vital question; one, who will be the champeens of the National League East seven months from now and, two, whether to do pork with a bourbon glaze for an early dinner to accompany the Braves and Cubs or go for the more traditional dogs and nachos. While we salivate over the second question, the first is rather easy to answer, surprisingly easy. If they stay reasonably healthy, there is no reason the Braves shouldn't win the division over the Phillies, though whoever finishes second seems almost a lock to get into the playoffs as the wild card.
I am, frankly, stunned to make that prediction because, if you don't know by now, I am the Ultimate Pessimist (which would be a fantastic pro wrestling character, don't you think?). I have had to strain so hard to see the good in having Melky Cabrera on the team that I check for hernias every night. I keep waiting for Double J, Jair Jurrjens to leave a start in the second inning with "mild discomfort" in his shoulder and be listed day-to-day for three weeks before finally going on the disabled list, even though they can't find any damage. I expect Chipper Jones to miss four games in a couple weeks with the only injury he has not sustained during his Hall of Fame career, a sprained schwanzstucker.
Yet when I compare the Braves to the Quakers, I see a division title. How can this be? The Phillies appear to have more talent, especially in the field. We know about Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, though there's a chance that Jayson Werth could be better than both this season. Shane Victorino is pretty good. Jimmy Rollins is good, though overrated. Raul Ibanez should regress some as he will turn 38 in June, but he will still hit pretty well and field pretty awful. In other words, he will probably be your typical National League all-star left fielder.
On the mound, it is hard to argue against a one-two punch of Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels, whom I think will be much better than last year. So how do the Braves beat the original Jays (historical note: Phillies management tried to re-nickname the team the Blue Jays for a time in the 1940's, their 'lipstick on a pig' attempt to revive the squad, similar to when the Boston Braves became the 'Bees' in 1936)? It is more simple than you think.
The Braves may not match up to the Phillies everyday lineup in the field, but I think the lineups are closer in strength than you think, IF. Actually, that should a plural 'ifs'. Chipper has to keep his body parts mostly healthy and have a decent year; not spectacular, just decent. Troy Glaus has to have a decent year at first, again, no MVP-type play is needed, just a year about equal to a good Chipper year. Jason Heyward doesn't have to be Wally Berger, he just has to be good. The trio of McLouth, Melky, and Matt need to be themselves, nothing more. If all that takes place, the Braves simply shouldn't lose because, unlike the Philadelphians, Atlanta is more loaded than Otis Campbell on the mound.
Though I do fear that Double J is a tad overrated, who can argue with a rotation of Tommy Hanson, Jurrjens, Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, and Iron Chef Kawakami? Sure, it could be better. Any team's rotation could be better, but I dare you to name a deeper five-man rotation. Not a rotation of two or three good starters plus a couple of rookies or rag-armed veterans, a rotation with five solid pitchers. In today's overly expanded MLB, such a rotation is more rare than a Barry Bonds public appearance.
When injury comes, and it always does, Kris Medlen looks as if he is ready to be a big-league starter. Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito make the back end of the bullpen pretty good at the very least, and excellent if they stay healthy. Come mid-season, if he has any control at all, Craig Kimbrel could be ready to come up from the minors and make the pen even stronger. Depending on the health of the older guys, The Kimmer could be the closer by the stretch run. The Phillies may have Halladay and Hamels in the rotation, but they don't have much else in the way of pitching. Well, they do, but not much that is proven at the big league level other than Jamie Moyer, who has been pitching since V-J Day and has ERA's around five every year. Unless the 2008 version of Brad Lidge emerges from the disabled list and J.A. Happ continues to pitch better than he actually is, the Phils will have to pull off a major deal before the deadline to have enough arms to get them in the playoffs.
But the main reason the Braves will win is history. Sure, the Phillies are working on a turkey of pennants, but that nickname, the Phillies, is lame. It is derived from Philadelphians, which apparently shows how much of a creativity drain the city suffered when the Founding Fathers left for greener pastures a couple hundred years ago. On the other hand, the Braves' team nickname was originally derived from a group of corrupt politicians, and since corrupt politics is in vogue right now, that tells me the stars are aligned for victory. No, I don't think we should do The Washington and bribe the writers to vote for us. I want to rub it in as many faces as possible, starting with those know-it-alls at ESPN who are so quick to flash their 'resumes' at us while they are "analyzing."
Mark it down, the Braves will win the division. Now, if half the lineup is on the DL in two weeks and we're 15 games out by mid-May, this post never happened. Happy Opening Day, and let's play ball!