TJ Hartnett

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Heavy Is The Head

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

If there’s a problem with success, it’s the expectation of repeating it. That’s the case in many walks of life, and so it is in Major League Baseball. Winning teams are expected to follow up successful seasons with more successful seasons.

For the Atlanta Braves, who have now won three consecutive National League East Division Championships, they are expected to repeat that feat a fourth time. Especially, given the youth of the team and the starting rotation holes from 2020 that GM Alex Anthopoulos has already taken steps to fill in the guise of Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly.

In fact, the crown likely lies even heavier, given that the Braves went (much) deeper into the playoffs in 2020 than in the previous two seasons, coming within one game of the World Series.

With that on their recent record, Atlanta will be looked at to not just win their division, but to advance to the World Series in 2021 as well.

But there are some teams that would like to stop them and since we often talk about why a team will win, let’s look instead at the four teams that might stop the Braves’ quest to four-peat, in order of least concerning to most concerning.

  1. The Washington Nationals-The crazy thing here, and really about this division in general, is that the Nationals are not a bad team.

They have a top-tier pitching staff that couldn’t stay on the field in 2020, and they won the whole thing just 2 years ago (admittedly with the help of an MVP-caliber Anthony Rendon).

They’re really only one or two good pieces away from being back in the trophy hunt and word is that they’ve been meeting with top free agents like JT Realmuto.

Which brings up to the team he may not be returning to:

  1. The Philadelphia Phillies-They really should have been much, much better in 2019.

They spent tons of money bringing in players to shape their lineup into something intimidating, and then they just…didn’t win.

Bryce Harper was signed and then surrounded by loads of other acquisitions, but in the end it just wasn’t enough.

Now Realmuto, arguably the next-best player on their team and inarguably the best catcher in the game, is a free agent and may walk.

I couldn’t really pinpoint what it is that makes the Phillies not work right now – though certainly their rotation isn’t as good as ¾ of the rest of the division – and neither can they.

But the thing that separates them from the Nats is that they could flip a switch without really making any roster changes and be a huge threat in the division.

  1. The Miami Marlins-The other team from the NL East to make it to the playoffs in 2020, the Marlins starting rotation is young and gifted in a way that only the Braves can even come close to touching in the division.

They leaned on Sixto Sanchez, Pablo Lopez, and Sandy Alcantara last year, and it served them very well.

There’s no reason to believe that Derek Jeter and the rest of the Marlins brass is going to waste that kind of talent in their primes and a few moves to bolster their lineup could make Miami the toast of the division.

1.The New York Mets-That’s right, the New York Mets. This might seem like a crazy choice for the top threat in the NL East to unseat Atlanta’s three-year stint on the throne, but there are few things scarier than a new owner with a vision and a deep, deep wallet.

They’ve already got Jacob DeGrom, who is one of the best pitchers in baseball and Noah Syndergaard will be back with a vengeance after missing last year due to injury.

New owner Steven Cohen could very well fund new GM Jared Porter to go out and add Trevor Bauer to the rotation too and he could make a lucrative offer to Realmuto, or put together a trade package for Nolan Arenado wherein the Mets absorb his massive contract.

The point is, there’s a new top dog in New York, and that brings the threat of a massive upheaval in an attempt to make a splash and a statement in 2021.

Granted, that doesn’t always work (see #3), but it should be enough to strike at least a little questioning fear in the heart of Braves Country.

Increasing Altitude

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Because nothing can be anything resembling normalcy can exist anymore, the NBA is releasing the schedule for the upcoming 2020-2021 season in two parts – the first chunk covers the starts of the season (right around the corner, on December 22nd) to March 4th, at which they’ll have the All-Star Break.

The remaining schedule will be released at a later time. Ideally, they’ll still get in a full season of 72 games before the playoffs start on May 18th.

However, the big change will be who they play. Each team will play the teams in their own conference three times and will double the usual amount of games against teams from the opposing conferences (from 15 to 30).

There are some extra complexities mixed up in there, but instead of dwelling on those, let’s look at how the announced schedule plays out for the Atlanta Hawks.

The beginning of the schedule, including just four games in December and 16 in January, could be a difficult proving ground for Atlanta.

They’ve got the Memphis Grizzlies, who are just getting started, and the Brooklyn Nets, with whom Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving like to hang out, as half of those December games.

After that, they’ve got two more against the Nets, a road game in Milwaukee, and a trip out west that could be a major challenge.

Those could be backbreaking, but the Hawks certainly have the chance to win at least some of those and then there’s games at the Cavs, the Hornets, the Knicks, the Pistons, and the Timberwolves that Atlanta should have good showings against.

February is going to likely be even more of a challenge. That’s when the Lakers show up, as well as the Mavericks, the Celtics, and the Heat.

That’s all bad pretty news. While the Hawks could upset some of those better teams, that difficult stretch makes it all the more important that Atlanta takes care of business against the teams that they are, in turn, better than.

There’s barely any March schedule to talk about, so that rough February is going to wind down into an All-Star Break that will be well-earned.

How the rest of the year shakes out is yet to be determined, but if the Hawks can play up to the level they expect of themselves, they’ll be in good position.

January really stands out as a month that could swing either way and one in which the Hawks really need to get off to a good start.

There are winnable games to start, and if they can come away with victories, then I think that momentum could help carry them through the tougher games that will pop up as the month progresses.

February is going to be a difficult month regardless of how January goes, so if the Hawks want to make a run towards the playoffs (and they do), the first month of the season is going make or break them.

The Hawks have the potential to be one of – if not the – most improved teams in the NBA this season. This season – or the first half of it anyway – is actually going to help earn that rep, so long as they can win more games than they lose. They don’t need to dominate, just win the games they should and a handful of the ones they could.

If they can pull that off and continue it into whatever the second half looks like they’ll have a great chance of returning to the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-2017 season.

All Smyles

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

I’m a sucker for puns. Good puns, bad puns (there are none), doesn’t matter. I love puns.

So, the endless possibilities that sprung to mind when the news broke on Monday that the Atlanta Braves had signed Drew Smyly made me, uh…grin.

In any case, Atlanta signed the left-handed hurler to a one-year, $11 million contract.

Alex Anthopoulos’ second signing of the offseason after bringing back righty Josh Tomlin on a one-year, $1 million deal (to hopefully pitch out of the bullpen, where he’s been very good, only).

It isn’t a massive splash, of course that’s never been Atlanta’s style, regardless of who the general manager is. However, it’s a solid move to begin the process of going after a 4th straight NL East division championship (all due respect to Tomlin).

While eight figures seems like it might be a lot for a guy who certainly didn’t top the list of free agent pitchers (Trevor Bauer is about to make bank, though), Smyly is coming off of what was (or was almost going to be, had he not missed some time to injury) the best season of his career, pitching for the San Francisco Giants.

For a 31-year-old pitcher, that’s a pretty impressive feat and it’s likely owing to the fact that his velocity has somehow actually increased as he’s entered his 30s.

Granted, the 2020 season was an anomaly and Smyly probably had more gas in the tank on the whole (his longest outing was just 5 1/3), but the fact that 2019 was a good run for him and he took further steps the next season speaks to his improvement. It’s likely the combo of the two seasons that put him on Anthopoulos’ radar.

Now, you’re probably thinking that only one start into the 6th inning coupled with a good-but-not-jaw-dropping 3.42 ERA isn’t anything to get excited about, and to be fair, you’re absolutely correct. But this signing isn’t the kind of signing that’s supposed to get you all riled up.

Smyly is essentially going to be expected to play the role of the capable veteran in the rotation, a role that was desperately unfilled in 2020, much in part to Cole Hamels’ inability to get healthy enough to earn that $18 million that Atlanta had to pay him for three innings this year.

In short, this was a move to acquire more depth, and it comes at a position that was horrifically devoid of that, particularly as the year went by.

And to that end, Smyly is a low(ish)-risk, high(ish)-reward signing: the deal is for a single season (which the higher-tier pitchers won’t be looking at this early in the offseason), not for no money but cheaper than the aforementioned Hamels was or plenty of other pitchers will be.

While Smyly is unlikely to be in the Cy Young conversation for next season and there is a history of injury, he’s capable of being a solid hand who can rack up 10+ wins with a sub-4.00 ERA.

Every playoff-hopeful team needs one or two and the Braves had none last year. This is just the kind of piece that could potentially make a difference, especially if the 2021 season goes ahead as planned and they get a full 162-game schedule in (can you imagine if Atlanta had had to play a full complement of games with the rotation they had for most of last year?).

This signing allows Atlanta to devote more resources to either resigning or replacing Marcel Ozuna this offseason and hoping that the big splash in the pitching rotation comes when Mike Soroka fully recovers from his injury towards the beginning of next season.

The Boss

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

A few years ago, I wrote a story about Augusta National allowing women to play golf at their club. I pointed out that the mere fact that it was news that women were breaking new ground in the 21st century was shameful in and of itself. Not that the move wasn’t important or newsworthy, because it was, just that it was ridiculous how late in the game (no pun intended) that the rule was being changed.

In a similar – but also distinct – manner, the Miami Marlins made the historic move to hire the first female General Manager in Major League Baseball history: Kim Ng.

Not for nothing, she will also be the first Asian-American GM and the first female GM in any of the four major North American Sports.

Ng comes to the gig with 30 years of high-level experience in the league, including the last nine as Major League Baseball’s senior vice president of baseball operations.

Before that, she spent 21 years in the front offices of the Chicago White Sox, the New York Yankees, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, showing up to be GM Brian Cashman’s right-hand woman in New York at the start of their World Series three-peat from 1998-2000.

At the time she was the youngest assistant GM in the league at just 29 years old and only the second woman to be hired to that gig.

In short, she is supremely qualified (the kind of qualifications that, let’s not kid ourselves, would have gotten her hired 10 years ago if she’d been a man), and while likely not the first woman that’s capable of handling the job, Derek Jeter and the Marlins have made her the first to rise to the top.

But with all that said, she’s got work to do. Ng is inheriting a Marlins team that made the postseason for just the third time in history on the backs of an incredibly young and gifted pitching rotation.

All eyes will be on her to solidify their position as a playoff team in a division populated by a Braves team that will be expected to repeat, Nationals & Phillies teams that will one day figure out what to do with their talent, and a Mets team with a new owner who will want to make a splash, and soon.

In the face of all that, it makes sense that Ng might want to make a splash of her own.

Incidentally, the Cleveland Indians have made it known that All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor is on the market.

Ng and the Marlins have a farm system ready to be utilized, and Lindor is just the kind of franchise player that Miami has lacked since JT Realmuto was shipped off to Philadelphia.

Getting Lindor would be a no-brainer acquisition for any team. He’s been the best shortstop in baseball since his rookie season in 2015, even with his underproductive (for him) 2020 campaign.

The best part is – as Lindor is a free agent after 2021 – the Indians’ asking price would have to be (somewhat) reasonable.

Whether or not Ng could extend the shortstop is a whole different conversation, but the appeal of being able to trade for such a marquee name for only a handful of prospects and only one or two top-tier ones would be hard to resist.

Would Lindor put the Marlins over the top in the NL East? Absolutely not.

They’ve got too many holes in their lineup and bullpen for one elite player to change the entire future of the team, even one that made the playoffs last season.

But the positive spotlight is on the Marlins for once and going after Mr. Smile will keep it there.

Leading In

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

It’s been a weird year, which isn’t news, but it keeps coming up with ways to feel new bouts of weirdness.

The newest odd sensation was a sense of lacking where it doesn’t belong. Halloween came (with sadly few trick-or-treaters, at least in our neighborhood), Halloween went.

That old familiar football showdown between the University of Georgia and the University of Florida – traditionally positioned closer to All Hallow’s Eve – was nowhere to be seen.

Instead, the game was pushed back a week and will now take place on November 7th. However, even that day won’t feature the same, familiar pomp and circumstance and it makes me wonder…if it isn’t a big, drunken, hate-filled party on the beach and at the stadium, is it really Georgia/Florida?

I think the answer is both kind of and kind of not. I’ve been down to Jacksonville for the game, and it is an atmosphere unlike most anything else, particularly for what is always a mid-season game and doesn’t always feature two evenly matched teams.

This is a rivalry that runs very, very deep, and the partying and pageantry is a massive part of that tradition; without RV City, the Bold City Bash, the Georgia-Florida Hall of Fame luncheon, and, perhaps most notably, no tailgating, can this Georgia/Florida week feel like Georgia/Florida week?

Mercifully, the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs have done their respective parts to make this a game worth investing in, even if the investors, aren’t sipping brews in northeastern Florida all day long.

Instead, this year’s game is a big one because the SEC East will be hanging in the balance. So, while TIAA Bank Stadium will only be at 25% capacity, all fans across the Southeastern United States will be hanging on to every snap.

And it should be a contest worth watching. Both UGA and Florida rebounded from their first losses of the season last week, with Florida smacking Missouri around 41-17 and Georgia, who has been ranked higher but won less impressively, beating Kentucky 14-3.

UGA’s not-so-pretty win might foreshadow troubles they could have against Florida.

Their defense held the opposition to 3 points, but quarterback Stetson Bennett was intercepted twice and passed for just 131 yards.

Coach Kirby Smart said after the game that he is going with Bennett against the Gators on Saturday.

That offense is going to have to step up in a huge way if they want to match up with Florida, who has put up at least 40 points in 3 of their last 4 games.

Their defense also looked to have turned a corner after an embarrassing showing two weeks ago; more bad news for the Bulldogs.

There’s also the issue of Florida’s blood being up. There was a matter of a late hit on their quarterback on Saturday, which led to a brawl with Missouri that saw two Gators get ejected.

Now, that might sound like it doesn’t affect their game against UGA, but they’re hungry and they’re probably pissed about being ranked below Georgia in weeks when they don’t feel like they should be.

This game could be a statement for a team that has players willing to get ejected for fighting.

With a quarter of the fans in the stadium and the normal pomp and circumstance that surrounds this game is absent this year.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this game won’t feel like the hard-hitting contest that fans are used to.

However, the rest of the context, and particularly the SEC East crown hanging in the balance, means that this one is going to be about football in a way that it isn’t always. And it should be very good football.

The Mixer

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

I admit two things: the first is that when Josh Donaldson signed with the Minnesota Twins last offseason for a 4-year stint for the exact same yearly salary that he had just made during his one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves, I was upset.

He was a bona fide power hitter to protect Freddie Freeman and put up huge numbers in his own right. He took to the Braves clubhouse and the Braves fans like a fish to water, too.

He was enormously productive and enormously popular given the short period of time he was a Brave, Donaldson leaving was a deep cut.

Where would Alex Anthopoulos come up with a replacement for what the Bringer of Rain provided to the team in 2019?

The answer was Marcel Ozuna. Which did not really alleviate the feeling that Anthopoulos screwed up by not offering Donaldson that fourth year (or whatever it was that wasn’t offered).

Ozuna was a talented player, and one the Braves were familiar with from his years playing in Miami, but Donaldson had made such an impact that it seemed like only Donaldson would be able to provide what the Braves needed.

And of course, here’s my second admission: I was very wrong about Marcel Ozuna.

Not only did Ozuna protect Freddie in the lineup, he put up such delirious offensive numbers that pitchers had a Sophie’s choice when it came to their back-to-back spots in the lineup.

And (in part) because of Ozuna lurking in the on-deck circle, Freeman is the likely National League MVP this year. Ozuna may very well finish right behind Freeman in the vote – but he’ll doubtlessly be in the top 5, so good was his season.

And he clearly became just as popular in the clubhouse and with the fans (from afar, of course) as Donaldson had been. His energy was infectious, and without him the Braves wouldn’t have been “Mixing It Up” all season long and deep into the playoffs.

But here’s the catch: like Donaldson, Ozuna was on a one-year, prove-yourself contract.

And, like Donaldson, he’ll have plenty of suitors once the free agent marketplace goes live after the World Series.

In fact, he’ll have more suitors than Donaldson had, due to his younger age and superior (albeit smaller sample) production.

So here we are again, feeling the same way we felt last offseason. It is crucial to resign the guy hitting behind Freddie; that his presence in the lineup and in the clubhouse is irreplaceable.

But there’s an added wrinkle and that’s the designated hitter.

Apart from a few, fairly ugly, stints in left field during the early part of the season and scattered appearances after that, Ozuna was the Braves’ primary DH during 2020.

Each time he played defense; it became clearer that his best position was the batter’s box.

Unfortunately, that may not be an option for him in Atlanta going forward.

Latest reports are saying that the DH, implemented for the first time ever in the National League in 2020, will be dropped from the senior circuit next year and the notion won’t be considered again until the Players’ Union and MLB begin collectively bargaining after the 2021 season.

While I would imagine that the DH for the NL will indeed be included in that CBA, it poses a problem for Anthopoulos’ potential to sign Ozuna.

Do you sign a player to a multi-year contract knowing A) that he’ll be a hindrance to your defense for at least a whole season and B) that the DH coming to the NL is no guarantee, which means he’d be a hindrance to your defense for the entirety of his contract?

I, for one, assumed that the DH was here to stay, and thusly assumed that resigning Ozuna would be a no-brainer and a priority for the Braves Front Office.

However, if the designated hitter is indeed gone next season with no assurance of its return, then I honestly don’t know that Ozuna’s weak defense (and blocking of the other outfield prospects on the depth chart like Drew Waters) would be worth the offense he provides.

It’s hard to say that, because he was so excellent at the plate. Sure, the whole offense was good in 2020 and yes, it could be a simple as moving the lineup around so that an existing player can hit behind Freddie (Albies? A more consistent Riley?), but it was Ozuna’s presence that really made the team a force at the plate.

With this news of a DH-less NL in 2021, the Braves can add another tough decision to their plate this offseason and we’ll all just have to wait and see what they do.

Georgia Tech Wrecked

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The number 2 and number 3 college football teams played each other on Saturday, a showcase game for the SEC and a contest with huge implications for the National Championship scene coming up in just a couple of months.

But there was another kind of showcase for the number 1 college football team in the nation.

The Clemson Tigers hung 73 points on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Saturday, and while Tech was never going to be able to put up much of a fight, they managed a meager 7 points, losing by 66 to the number 1 ranked team in the country.

That score might give you pause and reasonably so: you aren’t the only person wondering if Clemson ran up the score on a lesser team just to show off and build up stats; but the things that they pretty clearly weren’t.

It wasn’t as though the Tigers left their first-string players in the game while the scored touchdown after touchdown after touchdown after touchdown after touchdown after touchdown after…well, you get the point.

No, it was Clemson’s second-string scoring on Tech’s first-string; the Tigers were showcasing nearly their entire team as the game progressed – getting experience to the inexperienced.

In fact, primary backup quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei didn’t even see any snaps after Trevor Lawrence was subbed out of the game. Coach Dabo Sweeney went with their third-string QB instead (Uiagalelei had some shoulder soreness, but still).

So, while the cries of running up the score are understandable given the 66-point score differential, the truth of the matter is that Clemson – the whole squad – was just that much better than the Yellow Jackets – they were on the same field by they were barely playing the same game.

The offensive, the defense, the special teams; the Tigers’ depth chart was in play and dominating. Third stringers were thriving up and down the gridiron. Tech simply wasn’t on Clemson’s level.

Circling back to Lawrence; the young QB obviously had an incredible game. His 404 yards and 5 first-half touchdown passes were career bests, the 52 points he led the Tigers to in the first two quarters was a new school record.

Irrelevant footnote: Lawrence’s first-quarter interception was his first since last October, breaking a streak of 366 completed passes without one.

That’s a fun fact in and of itself, but it’s representative of the level of excellence at which Lawrence has been playing football in 2020.

During the first five games of the season (in which the Tigers have unsurprisingly gone 5-0), Lawrence has completed over 70% of his passes along with 1,544 yards, 15 touchdowns, and 4 rushing touchdowns and remember that he just threw his first interception of the season in a 73-7 victory against a fellow ACC team.

For a young man who has already announced that he’ll be entering the draft after this season, he is rising the hell out of his own stock and it’s always been pretty high (Clemson is 30-1 in games that Lawrence starts).

Perhaps the craziest part of this drumming of Georgia Tech is the fact that half of this article has been devoted to the massive accomplishments of a quarterback who left the game after the first drive of the second half. That’s how impressive he and the rest of the team were on Saturday.

So, while Alabama and Georgia can battle it out until the cows come home Clemson made a statement to them – you’re only playing for second best.

Braves And Fish

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

So, in a rare moment of fortune for a professional sports team housed in Atlanta, I get to write the following sentence: the Atlanta Braves have won the first round on the 2020 MLB Playoffs and are moving on to face the Miami Marlins in a best-of-five set starting on Tuesday.

The reason it’s such a treat to write that sentence, and the reason it’s momentous despite maybe not seeming worthy of such pomp and circumstance, is because I wasn’t employed by The Southern Sports Edition the last time the Braves made it out of the first round.

In fact, I couldn’t be legally employed pretty much anywhere at the time because I was 13 years old.

That’s right, the Braves snapped a 10-series losing streak when the swept the Cincinnati Reds behind some stellar pitching performances from Max Fried, Ian Anderson, and the entire Atlanta bullpen, which shut the Reds down over 2 games and 22 innings.

But instead of dwelling on the past, let’s instead look to the upcoming Division Series against the all-too-familiar Marlins.

There’s good and bad in facing Miami.

The most obvious good being the Braves’ record against the Fish in 2020 was 6 wins against 4 losses.

Normally Atlanta would play Miami almost twice as much, but even in a much smaller sample size, Atlanta has the edge.

But there’s bad, too. The Miami pitching rotation, and particularly the starting trio of Sixto Sanchez, Pablo Lopez, and Sandy Alcantara, is very, very good.

With a two-game sweep of the favored Chicago Cubs, only Alcantara and Sanchez have made appearances so far, but both were excellent.

Alcantara allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings, and Sanchez shut the Cubbies out over 5.

They’ll go toe-to-toe with Fried and Anderson, with Kyle Wright likely in the mix for Atlanta.

The parallels are actually pretty fascinating.

Both rotations are young. Anderson and Sanchez are both rookies that debuted halfway through the season.

Lopez and Wright both debuted in 2018 and showed only flashes of what they can do before this season’s more consistent success (Wright’s is a much smaller sample size).

Alcantara and Fried have become their respective teams’ aces despite only solidifying their spots in the rotation last season.

Plus, Fried is the oldest of this sextet at the tender age of 26. That’s a lot of inexperience for a lot pitchers that these two teams are relying on.

The big difference between these two teams and the thing that likely haunts the Marlins’ dreams, is the offense.

The Marlins have one that is serviceable; the Braves have arguably the best bats in the league.

They proved that to Miami, beyond a shadow of a doubt, last month when they hung 29 runs, an NL record, on the Fish.

Granted, that offense was slow to wake up against Trevor Bauer and Luis Castillo last week. Scoring just 1 run off of that duo in 13 innings.

They came alive at the end of Game 2 and scored 4 runs in the eighth, which is a bad sign for Miami, but they looked bad enough during the rest of the series to question whether or not they’ve gone cold at the worst possible time.

But speculation is just guesswork, and we’ll get to put that all aside and see what happens.

The Hunt For A Brave October

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Atlanta Braves won their third straight NL East title and are into the playoffs.

Now this isn’t an unexpected development, as the Braves were the favorites to win the East going into the season, but in practice it took a lot more work than many would have thought. The road to the playoffs was a different route than it maybe should have been.

In any case, the Braves will face off against the seventh seeded team at Truist Park, with ace Max Fried taking the mound, and thank god for that.

Fried, who will be the wily veteran of the team’s postseason rotation with about a year and a half of being a rotation mainstay under his belt, left his last start of the regular season after the first inning because he twisted his ankle fielding a ball.

If you happened to feel a shockwave reverberated anywhere in the Southeastern United States last week, that was the collective gasp/groan/heart palpitations of the entirety of Braves Country.

Mercifully, he was only taken out due to precautionary measures (the Braves had clinched the East already). The Braves Cy Young candidate, the undefeated Fried will prevent Brian Snitker from having to run a rookie with only five career starts out for Game 1 of the playoffs.

That being said, let’s look at the rest of the rotation.

For four innings a week and a half ago, it seemed like Cole Hamels would be taking the mound for a postseason start, but after making his one and only appearance for the Braves this season, Hamels went right back to the Injured List and that was that.

So instead, Ian Anderson is likely to start Game 2. He’s looked great in his short time in Atlanta and there’s nothing inherently concerning about having someone that inexperienced start in a playoff game, but we also can’t pretend that we know what to expect.

And really any concern about Anderson starting is compacted with the fact that Game 3, if necessary, will be started by Kyle Wright. He’s been consistently good for fewer starts (three, to be exact).

One of those two young pitchers would probably not garner much of a second thought as the postseason begins but the fact that the Braves are relying on two such pitchers along with their ace barely being out of his own rookie season and nary a veteran in sight is cause for concern.

Sure, the pitchers all have excellent stuff and are capable of shutting down any other team’s offense but with such small sample sizes, they’re simply still unknown quantities.

Which means Atlanta will be leaning on its historically good offense, its exceptional defense, and it’s excellent bullpen to help them win their first postseason series in nearly two decades and advance deep into the playoffs.

And those elements are all terrific. If Atlanta had made it through 2020 with the rotation they’d hoped for way back in February, they might be unstoppable favorites to win the World Series.

As it stands right now, they’re a team with question marks at the most important place when it comes to the postseason.

Prize Fish

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

We are now just a week away from the end of the 2020 Major League Baseball season.

Even with a massively expanded postseason this year, or possibly because of that expansion, it’s pretty clear which teams will be present during round 1 of a playoff that will look wildly different for a lot of different reasons.

Basically, with 16 teams making the cut, all of the decent teams and a couple of middling ones will be in on the final hunt for that World Series trophy; and unless something truly wild happens three of those teams will be hailing from the NL East.

The Braves seem destined to win the division and Marlins and Phillies are both over .500.

Miami is too far behind San Diego in terms of winning percentage to take over the four seed in the playoff tournament, but they’ll likely hold on to the five spot and therefore play the Padres in a three-game set taking place entirely at Petco Park.

The Phillies, assuming they don’t usurp the Marlins in second place, can only be seeded seventh or eighth, which has the dramatic possibility of seeing them face off with Atlanta in Truist Park for the first round.

The Marlins are surely going to win the World Series.

Now that might sound that a pretty bold prediction, but history backs me up here.

Sure, Miami’s season-to-season track record has been underwhelming, to say the least (they’ve never won the division since coming into existence over two and a half decades ago). However, they’ve made it to the postseason via the wild card twice and they’ve never lost a postseason series.

That’s right, two trips to the playoffs; two World Series Championships.

It’s really as simple as that. They’re poised to make the cut at the NL East’s second-place team, and history tells us that that means they won’t lose in the postseason.

But for the sake of argument, let’s briefly look at how they’re going to win their inevitable third Commissioner’s Trophy.

It starts and ends with Miami’s starting pitching.

I’ve rambled on and on here about Atlanta’s struggles with the starting rotation and how the young pitchers they call up have struggled. Miami keeps striking gold when it adds starters to the roster.

For example, highly touted prospect Sixto Sanchez has delivered in a huge way for the fish, giving them innings and not giving up runs. He’s looked every bit of what the Marlins hoped he’d be.

He’s got help on the mound from guys like Sandy Alcantara, who’s only made 5 starts but has gone six innings in all but one, giving up three earned runs or less in those 4 games (he gave up 5 in a 4-inning affair during his second start of the season).

Pablo Lopez has looked good too.

Some of their starters haven’t been up to snuff, like Jose Urena, but looking at the more immediately future: it doesn’t matter. You only need three starters in a three-game series.

Their bullpen is led by guys like Brad Boxberger and James Hoyt.

So, while picking the Marlins to win the whole thing this year may seem like a foolish notion, it’s pitching that matters most in the playoffs, and they’ve got a good crew on the mound.

The mere fact that they’ll be there is all the backup I need.

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