I've exchanged five questions about our respective teams with Martin Gandy, who runs the SB Nation Braves site Talking Chop, in advance of the season-opening series between the Cubs and Braves starting tomorrow.
The Braves have retooled and appear to be in strong position to contend this year, although they'll have a tough time in the NL East against the powerful Phillies.
Follow me past the jump for my questions and Martin's answers. My answers to his questions will appear on Talking Chop tomorrow morning.
BCB: Jason Heyward. He's Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Willie Mays all rolled into one, right? Why will he succeed after playing only 50 games above A ball?
TC: Just about every scout who has seen him play says that he has the best approach to the plate they've ever seen in a 20-year old kid. His game starts with his patience at the plate. He takes walks like Alfonso Soriano strikes out. If Heyward sees a pitch that's not in his zone he (generally) won't swing at it. He's had this approach since high school. In fact, that's one of the big reasons he dropped to the Braves at the 14th pick in the 2007 draft. No other scouts really got a chance to see Heyward swing the bat his senior year of high school because all the opposing pitchers pitched around him, and Heyward let them; not willing to go outside of his zone and chase a pitcher's pitch.
Heyward is strong and athletic and still growing (which is a bit scary). He's got the five tools that teams crave, but most of all it will be that solid and patient approach at the plate which will allow him to make it through the growing pains of the his first Major League season.
BCB: The Maddux/Smoltz/Glavine era is now over. But the Braves appear to have put together a very strong starting staff. Tell us about the Braves pitchers who will face the Cubs this series.
TC: Derek Lowe should be familiar to most people. He's a sinkerballer, and you'll be able to tell when he's on his game because everyone is making outs on the ground. He's not mind-blowingly good, nor is he really an ace -- though he is paid like it -- but he'll put together solid starts most of the time. He seems to find a bit extra in big games, like last year when he shutout the Phillies on 2 hits on opening day (hopefully he can repeat that performance again this year).
Jair Jurrjens was never really supposed to be this good, if you ask the scouts, but he has turned into a solid number-2 starter. He's getting craftier, but he doesn't do anything terribly out of the ordinary -- he just does all the ordinary things really good. You might face our best pitcher in game-3. It will be a neat matchup of two of the top rookies on the mound from last season, as the Braves' Tommy Hanson faces the Cubs' Randy Wells. Hanson comes at you with a superior fastball from a 6'6" frame that has some late movement, and complements that with a killer curve and a knockout slider. He also has a changeup which he can get people out with. He's a pure strikeout pitcher in the mold of John Smoltz.
BCB: Is the Bobby Cox Farewell Tour going to have any effect, positive or negative?
TC: I've gotta think that the Braves players will want to give it that extra effort to send Cox back to the post-season for one more year. There may be more of a sense of urgency this year, not only because it's Bobby's last season, but because the Braves have assembled the best team they've had in years. There are a lot of expectation for the 2010 Atlanta squad.
BCB: Which Braves player or players are your biggest concerns this year?
TC: Until he's hitting .320 or above at the All-Star break I will be worrying about Chipper Jones and whether he can bounce back from his career-worst year last season. Troy Glaus is a bit of an unknown at first base, and we really need him to come through with power in the middle of the order. I guess I'm always concerned about every player to some degree, but for the most part there's no one on the team that I'm really "worried" about in any serious way. If I had to choose one it would be Melky Cabrera, especially if the team keeps him in the leadoff spot (for which I don't think he's suited).
BCB: Which Cub or Cubs do you fear facing the most?
TC: I always fear Carlos Zambrano a bit. He can be as good as anyone on the mound when he wants to. Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee have been a great middle of the order force for you guys, and that's a tough group for any pitcher to go through. I fear for the umpires the most, as they'll be hearing it from the word go from both dugouts, as Lou Piniella and Bobby Cox dish it out as good as any two managers in baseball.