What else can baseball fans do in January but dream of October? In You May Say I’m a Dreamer, the Outside Corner staff will imagine the route to a World Series in 2012 title for all 30 teams.
After falling criminally short of making the playoffs last season, the Atlanta Braves made up for it in a big way in 2012 by winning the whole damn thing, knocking off the three-time AL champion Texas Rangers in six games in the World Series.
Atlanta’s season was mainly stabilized with their starting pitching. After Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson both missed substantial time with injuries last season, both pitchers started 30 games this year and were great, as Jurrjens won 16 games and had a 3.41 ERA, and Hanson was the Cy Young runner-up to repeat winner Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, winning 19 games with a 2.73 ERA and 250 strikeouts in 230 innings. The most veteran member of the Braves rotation, Tim Hudson, also showed up big-time for Atlanta. Hudson won 14 games and had a 3.18 ERA for the season, and was a fantastic backbone to the very young Braves rotation.
It was the two youngest members of Atlanta’s rotation that impressed the most though: Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor. Beachy won 17 games and Minor won 13, while each struck out over 200 hitters. For Minor, who was a maligned first-round pick, and Beachy, who went undrafted, the success was absolutely blissflul. Atlanta’s bullpen also held up their end of the bargain. Closer Craig Kimbrel followed up his Rookie of the Year season by posting a 2.10 ERA, saving 45 games, and striking out 107 batters. Set-up man Jonny Venters, despite dealing with injury in the middle of the season, still managed to throw 60 innings of 1.75 ERA ball. Two other top Braves set-up men, Arodys Vizcaino and Eric O’Flaherty, had ERAs of 2.32 and 2.74 respectively and helped Atlanta’s bullpen be the best in the league.
Offensively, things were a struggle at times for the Braves, but they still managed to get it done. Jason Heyward rebounded from his down 2011 season by OPSing .927 with 29 homers and 18 stolen bases, finishing in the top five in the NL MVP voting. Catcher Brian McCann had another McCann-like season, with an .868 OPS and 24 homers. Second baseman Dan Uggla, who had a horrific start to 2011, rebounded quite nicely for a solid entire 2012 campaign, homering a team-leading 33 times and OPSing .883.
As for the rest of the Bravse offense, it was a struggle at times. Chipper Jones played in just 119 games, and had a .785 OPS when he did play. Left fielder Martin Prado continued his downslide since moving to left field, with just a .731 OPS and only nine homers on the year. Center fielder Michael Bourn, expected to be a sparkplug for the team in 2012, stole only 37 bases and had just a .722 OPS, which lessens the chance of him returning to the Braves for 2013. Rookie shortstop Tyler Pastornicky was great defensively, but struggled on offense with just a .696 OPS for the year. And then there’s first baseman Freddie Freeman, who ran into a sophomore slump. Freeman did homer 21 times, but his BABIP fell and his OPS fell with it, dropping to .761 for the year.
It was a trying year for the Braves, but with the Phillies offense being completely anemic following Ryan Howard’s Achille injury and yet another injury to Chase Utley, Atlanta was able to sneak into the divisional crown. Offseason big spenders Washington and Miami scuffled, which allowed Atlanta to take control near the middle of the year, and barely edge out the Phillies in the season’s final week. And at the end of the day, you just need to get to the playoffs in order to win it all….which is what happened with the Braves this year.