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Under the Radar only Works if You’re Actually Under the Radar

I think most Braves fans have felt that the team assembled this year might be the best, well-rounded team the Braves have put on the field in years. We have the best potential starting rotation, we have what seems to be a solid bullpen of hard throwers, we have the best switch-hitting duo to ever put on a Braves uniform in the middle of the lineup, we have solid defense, and at just about every position we have depth in the minor leagues to fill in for a short period of time.

So this year, more than the last few, there is good reason for valid optimism from Braves fans, but I think we as fans and the Braves players alike would rather sneak up on the rest of baseball, not be predicted to win the whole thing. But picking the Braves to win the whole thing is just what a lot of sports outlets are starting to do. The Worldwide Leader joined the fray today, collecting comments like these from executives, managers, and players en route to predicting the Braves to win it all:

"People are wayyyy underestimating that club," said one NL executive. "It's amazing how far under the radar they've been. But you might think that till you see them play. Then you say, 'Shoot, this team's dangerous.'"

"I don't think anybody should be looking forward to going into Atlanta this year and facing [Tim] Hudson, Smoltz and Glavine," said Nationals manager Manny Acta. "And [Mike] Hampton, too. That's a bunch of tough hombres to go up against. And as long as Bobby Cox is over there, I don't think anybody should overlook that team."

"They're good," said the voice of the Phillies, Jimmy Rollins. "They've got the swag back. There's no doubt about that."

In addition to the Braves being ESPN’s pick, they were also Ken Rosenthal’s pick over at Fox Sports. He did qualify his pick with the warranted reluctance of actually being able to predict anything as well as his unsuccessful prediction history, but he had some good words of praise for the Braves:

The Braves have constructed an AL-type offense. Their bullpen will get a boost if lefty Mike Gonzalez returns from elbow-ligament transplant surgery at mid-season. Their rotation features enough options to absorb ineffectiveness and/or injury, and the organization's sudden surplus of young center fielders should come in handy at the July 31 non-waiver deadline. I'm not saying the Braves will again trade for this year's Mark Teixeira, but they should be able to get the piece or pieces they need.

Are we the unfortunate victims of being a good team on paper and therefore this year’s "fashionable" pick? It’s happened before when so many sports pundits point to a team as the team to win it all (outside of the obvious yearly picks of the Red Sox and Yankees), only to have that team not quite live up to the billing that so many predicted for it.

Many of the Braves I talked to this spring seem very hungry to get back to the postseason stage after being absent for two years. Maybe that’s why they’re staying so quiet about their predictions for the season, and for the most part, they haven’t been dragged into the Mets and Phillies war of words.

Certainly it’s not everyone out there picking the Braves to win the World Series. I’ve seen predictions with the Braves anywhere from first to third in just the NL East, and with two other good teams like the Mets and the Phillies in the same division it will be a dogfight the entire season. Can the Braves well-rounded roster construction and immense depth help them through the rough spots in the season better than those other team two teams’ lack of depth?

We won’t have to wait long to see what we have on the field, and those that aren’t picking us will either start coming around or say, "I told you so." We Braves fans know what the score is, we know it’s been two years since we made the postseason and 13 years since we won the World Series, but after giving the Mets and the Phillies each a taste of the NL East crown we know it’s time for it to be back where it belongs in Atlanta. The team that wanted to fly under the radar will now have to come out of the gates as the team to beat in the eyes of many around baseball. We’ve been both in the past -- the favorite and the underdog -- and for a decade and half we made the playoffs. Now, it’s time to get back there.

Underdog or Favorite… Go Braves!

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