Hamels, Utley: Don't sleep on the Braves

Let's pretend for a second that the Braves are the mythical "Team to Beat" in the NL East. . .

Is it really that hard to imagine?

Chase Utley and Cole Hamels don't think so.

We, the media, spent the morning scurrying around the club house listening to reaction from various players on Carlos Beltran's assertion that the Mets are the team to beat in the NL East race.

(One difference from Jimmy Rollins prediction: 1) Beltran labelling the Mets the team to beat in the race for NL East supremacy is like the Hamburglar labelling McDonald's the team to beat in the race for fast-food supremacy. . .Rollins prediction actually took some Cajones, seeing as though the Phillies hadn't just signed Johan Santana).

Hamels and Utley both said the same thing: Don't sleep on the Braves.

In fact, the attention surrounding the Mets and Phillies can only help them.

"I think it's good for them because they fall under the radar, and I think a team that can fall under the radar can be more scary to play," Hamels said. "I don’t know how they’ve fallen under the radar, because they’ve won the league for the past 10, 11 years. I think it makes it a little bit more smooth sailing for them and they can just go in there and do their job. . ."

I tend to agree.

Food for thought: here's the Braves projected rotation:

  • Tim Hudson (16-10, 3.33 ERA in 2007)
  • John Smoltz (14-8. 3.11 ERA in 2007)
  • Tom Glavine (13-8, 4.45 ERA in 2007)
  • Mike Hampton (162-game avg: 13-9, 3.97 ERA)
  • Chuck James (11-10, 4.24 ERA in 2007) or Jeff Bennett (2-1, 3.46 ERA in September of '07)

Furthermore, the Braves' No. 3 through No. 8 hitters all hit at least .270 with 12 home runs last year. New No. 2 hitter Mark Kotsay carries 162-game averages of .282 with 12 home runs and 80 runs scored.

The Braves have plenty of questions: Does Hampton, who hasn't pitched since 2005, really have anything left? Can Yunel Escobar produce at the lead-off spot all season? How good is the bullpen?

But to ignore the Braves seems a tad foolish. . .

Said Utley: "I definitely wouldn't count them out whatsoever."