Too early to be concerned, except for the Braves - NBC Sports

Too early to be concerned, except for the Braves
Atlanta fans excluded, you shouldn't read too much into slow starts
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Juan Franciscoÿand the Braves don't have enough offense to contend this season, NBCSports.com contributor Tony DeMarco writes.
April 12, 2012, 12:04 pm

Baseball Expert Tony DeMarco has been covering the big leagues since 1987, and been casting Hall of Fame ballots for the last 14 years. He answers questions weekly here:

Q. The Red Sox, Yankees, Braves and Giants all went without a victory on the first weekend of the season. Obviously, it's way too early to panic, but is there legitimate reason for concern for any of these teams?
- Wally Philips, New York

A. Yes, it's way too early to panic, but the fact is no team that started a season 0-6 has made the playoffs. So there always is urgency to perform - and that's especially the case among the top six American League teams, one of which won't make the expanded playoff field. In fact, it may take 92-93 wins to make the playoffs in the AL this season.

Of the teams you mention, in order of reason for concern, I'd rank them Braves (very much), Red Sox (much), Giants (some) and Yankees (very little).

I've picked the Braves to finish fourth in the NL East, and nothing that has happened in their first four losses has changed my mind. In fact, through Monday, the Braves are 2-4 this season and 12-24 since their late-2011 collapse began. Besides the Marlins and Nationals being much-improved, the Braves have issues that I believe will drop them to the 80-84-win range.

They simply don't have enough offense - a situation exacerbated by Chipper Jones' latest stint on the disabled list. They get little in the way of power from their outfielders (hopefully, Jason Heyward rebounds), and rookie shortstop Tyler Pasternicky may not hit enough to keep the job.

Tim Hudson also is on the disabled list, and there are questions about Jair Jurrjens' knee, so that could put too much pressure on the Braves' talented-but-young starting pitchers. You also have to wonder if the back three in the bullpen can match their 2011 workload and success.

The Giants are offensively challenged. Everybody knows that. But early returns for Melky Cabrera, Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey (the No. 2-4 hitters) are good, and I think the Giants will score more than they did last season, when they were able to win 86 games despite finishing last in the NL in runs scored.

And although the Diamondbacks will be a formidable NL West opponent, the Giants have an easier way to the playoffs in the NL than the competition among the AL's elite six teams. I don't see it taking 90 wins to make the five-team NL playoff field; somewhere in the upper-80s should be enough.

As for the Yankees, the Michael Pineda injury is unfortunate because it could have been avoided if he had told the team he was pitching through some pain. But they have enough starting pitching depth to overcome it.

Remember, Andy Pettitte should be activated next month, and you have to assume he has enough left in the tank to succeed, or he wouldn't have chosen to make a comeback.

Assuming good health for their many 30-plus stars, there's no compelling reason at this point to think the Yankees won't be back in the playoffs.

Q. Why are the Nationals so eager to move John Lannan? Won't they need him after Stephen Strasburg pitches his maximum of 160 innings? Why re-sign him in the first place in arbitration? I don't get it.
- Sonny Ramsey, Woodbridge, Va.

A. It's more a situation where Lannan wants to go elsewhere because he believes that he belongs in a major-league rotation.

You certainly can see Lannan's point, as while he is far from a frontline starter (38-51, 4.00 in 128 starts) he has four-plus years of big-league experience in the rotation.

But the Nationals decided this spring that Ross Detwiler, their No. 1 pick back in 2007, beat out Lannan for the final rotation spot behind Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson.

That decision came after the Nationals faced a mid-February deadline to sign Lannan in arbitration (for $5 million), or let him go. But everybody knows the adage that you can't have enough pitching, and that applies here.

Extremely rare is the team that goes through a season using only five starting pitchers, so you can rest assured that Lannan as well as Chein-Ming Wang (currently on the disabled list) will be needed at some point.

In the meantime, Lannan will have to pitch well and bide his time back in Triple-A -- unless the Nats do decide to deal him to fill another need.

Q. How did the Mets chose their team colors of blue and orange? I heard on a sports talk show that they took the colors of the Dodgers (blue) and Giants (orange) - the two former teams of New York. Is this true?
- Charles Booth, Sun City, Ariz.

A. Yes, that is true, Charles. Blue and orange also are two of the three colors on the New York City flag. And the Mets' original 'NY' cap insignia was identical to the one on the New York Giants' caps during their final years in the Polo Grounds before moving to San Francisco in 1957.



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