Remember the guest prognosticator series that occasionally ran last fall during the Redskins season? I have brought it back from baseball season. I am going to run a Q&A and prediction with a fan of the Washington Nationals opposition whenever I know a fan of them. To start off, I have John Taylor of DC-based SB Nation which hosts the Braves blog Talking Chop. We go over the current Braves, how John came to follow them and not the Nats (or does he?).
In retrospect, I should have given him a hard time about the last time the Nats and Braves met on Opening Day.
WFY: How weird will it be seeing someone other than Bobby Cox getting ejected this year?
JT: Very. I haven’t watched a Spring Training game so I haven’t had an opportunity to get used to it. Bobby Cox is the only Atlanta Braves manager I’ve ever known (we’ll get to how and when I started following the team later), and he’s been around long enough to have developed something of a cult following. Watching Bobby get tossed was as much a part of baseball over the last decade or so as Bonds slowly trotting to first (after a home run or walk) or Mariano Rivera shattering a bat in the ninth inning. Sadly it probably overshadowed his ability to actually manage the Braves, at least late in his career as he approached and ultimately broke the ejections record. I honestly don’t know enough about Fredi Gonzalez to say anything intelligent about how I think he’ll do with Atlanta. But I like that he spent four years on Bobby’s staff and has a familiarity with the division.
WFY: The Braves returned to the playoffs via Wild Card last year. Do you think they can get past the Phillies for the division title in 2011?
JT: Not this season. The Phillies have the best rotation and fewer question marks, even with the three key injuries. The Braves have question marks all over the field: Chipper Jones and his health, rookie Freddie Freeman at first base, Nate McLouth and Martin Prado in the outfield and the fluid closer situation. And shouldn’t there be some instability due to Cox’s departure? I just don’t see them making that move back to the top of the division in 2011. But maybe next year.
WFY: How did you become a Braves fan? Was it the TBS ads for them during Tom & Jerry’s Funhouse every afternoon? What will it take for a guy who has worked in DC for years to make the Nats his number one team?
JT: I came to baseball late. I never played it as a kid, not even T-Ball; my dad didn’t like baseball and only one of my friends played, so I never played. I played soccer year-round and followed football and basketball. For whatever reason, as a teenager I started playing baseball video games and following the stats and standings more closely. And then my family moved back to the Richmond area in 1990 … that was essentially Atlanta Braves country because of the Class AAA Richmond Braves, and I think the region identified more closely with the Braves than it did with the Orioles. So when I got there, the Atlanta Braves had their miraculous worst-to-first season that kicked off the run of division titles, and the future stars kept rolling through Richmond: Chipper Jones, Javy Lopez, Ryan Klesko and more. I had my team. My college roommate and I spent a lot of time watching baseball (thanks to TBS and HTS), I started playing fantasy baseball and we made two trips to spring training. And hey, the Braves actually won a World Series, which was pretty cool.
As for the Nationals vs. Braves … I catch a lot of crap from friends and co-workers when it comes to my loyalties. I have strong feelings for the Nationals and I’ve watched more Nats baseball over the last six years than I have Braves baseball. It comes with the territory — I was the sports content editor at The Washington Times when the team returned to town, so I was rather caught up in the day-to-day news and coverage of the team. I also went in on a season ticket package with friends (at RFK and Nats Park) and purchased Nationals merchandise. It also helped that the Nats were a team both my wife and I had an attachment to, as opposed to the Braves, a team that meant nothing to her.
So yeah, even though they play in the same division, I consider myself a fan of both the Braves and Nationals. I wore a Chipper Jones jersey T-Shirt three days ago and have been wearing a Nationals cap the last two days. I like rooting for the baseball team that actually plays where I live. And I’m not sure I have to worry about being too conflicted about rooting for two teams in the same division until they’re both competitive. The Nationals remain years away from fielding a legitimate NL East contender.
WFY: The Braves dropped their red-brimmed road caps in favor of all navy caps while the Nats did the opposite. Good move, bad move?
JT: I like the one-color hats. I usually wear a non-traditional fitted, slouched cap — and the Braves and Nats hats I have now are identical except for the letter on the front and the small logo in the back.
WFY: Have you been to either Turner Field or Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium for a Braves game? How is/was the experience there?
JT: I never made it to the old stadium, but I went to Turner Field for opening day back in the early 2000s. It was cold and few people showed up; Braves baseball! The stadium is pretty cool, though, if (a) you remember the 1996 Olympics, because it’s the converted Olympic stadium and the torch is still there, and (b) if you remember Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, because the outfield wall is in the parking lot.
WFY: Who takes this opening series, Washington or Atlanta? The season series? How do you see the NL East shaking out in 2011?
JT: I have no faith in the new Nationals lineup. Washington has a leadoff hitter who doesn’t get on base, an already injured first baseman, and a utility player and a castoff next to Jayson Werth in the outfield. And the rotation doesn’t stack up with Atlanta’s (though I wouldn’t be surprised to see Livan earn a win in Game 1). Braves take the opening series and the season series; by the time they’re playing in August and September, Atlanta should be fighting for a wild card spot and the Nationals will be mired in last place … again.