The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Braves at Marlins - Opening Series Preview with Braves Perspective

One of the new features here at The Book of Mike this season will be a preview before each and every series that the Marlins are about to start. Some will be more in depth than others, particularly as the Fish start to face their NL East opponents multiple times.

Making our previews better than those that you'll find anywhere else (at least those that relate to the Marlins) is that each and every preview will include insight from a team “insider.” How we have secured the opportunity to work with an insider from each of the Marlins opponents will not be discussed here, because – quite frankly – we're hoping to retain some exclusivity with this.

For the 2005 Opening Series, we have been fortunate enough to enlist the services of former Atlanta Braves mascot Chief Noc-a-Homa. Despite the Chief's immense popularity, he hasn't technically been a part of the Braves in stadium experience since 1990s. Still, he's a Brave through and through and he still follows the team very closely. Adding salt to the wound is the fact that the Chief has been replaced by two furry creatures, which are allegedly more kid friendly and less politically incorrect (while we won't show these two here, you can find them at this site – just click on the Braves logo).

For our interview, we avoided topics such as furry mascots throughout the league and the pain of his banishment from the reservation that is Turner Field, but we hope to get into those topics later in the year, once we've established a deeper relationship with the Chief.

The Matchup
Game 1 (4/5): Smoltz vs. Beckett
Game 2 (4/6): Hampton vs. Leiter
Game 3 (4/7): Hudson vs. Burnett

From the Insider
The Book Of Mike: First of all, what's your outlook for the Braves this year?

Chief: I know the Marlins are much improved this year, as are the Mets. The Phillies are a real contender too. But we, the Braves, are the champs, and we've been the champs for a long time now. If any team wants to take that title away, they'll have to go through Atlanta first. And I'm not sure we're going to see that happen this year.

TBOM: Fair enough. What do you think about Smoltz being back in the starting rotation?

Chief: I'm very excited about it. We really won't know how well it's working until later in the year, but for opening day, I think it's good news for the Braves and bad news for the Marlins. Smoltz has looked dominant this spring – he didn't give up his first earned run until his last outing – and I expect him to continue that dominance throughout Opening Day and the early part of the season – at the very least.

TBOM: What's up with the starting rotation? When will we get to see Tim Hudson?

Chief: I too initially expected to see Smoltz and Hudson back to back in the rotation, but the Braves are employing a strategy similar to the Marlins (who are separating Beckett and Burnett in the rotation) and are changing it up a bit in between their hard throwing starters.

TBOM: How do you feel about the Braves bullpen this year?

Chief: Well, putting Smoltz into the rotation downgrades the bullpen about as much as it upgrades the starting unit. The 9th inning won't be quite as intimidating for other teams. Having Danny Kolb as the closer is definitely not a bad thing, but he's not Smoltz either. I just hope that Leo Mazzone can teach Kolb how to make hitters swing and miss more often. He doesn't generate enough strikeouts for my taste.

The rest of the bullpen is much like Kolb: lots of names that you recognize, but none that make you say “uh oh, I hope we don't have to face him.” But like we talked about in the opening, we're talking about the Braves here and Leo Mazzone always seems to pull magic out of nowhere. I guess we're depending on him to do it again this year.

TBOM: Who do you expect to have a big year this year?

Chief: It's tough to draw any conclusions from Spring Training for a variety of reasons, but if I had to pick just one guy I'd go with Andruw Jones. Jones positively mashed the ball all spring. He nearly hit .500 and was in double digits for home runs. For the first time he's showing the power that many thought he would develop. And it doesn't just seem like a spring fluke; he's made significant changes to his approach at the plate, much of it driven by advice he's received by some guy named Willie Mays. Yes, that Willie Mays. The guy you've heard about.

Whether he sustains the power or not throughout the regular season, you at least know you'll get hall of fame caliber glove work from him in the outfield. That's always reassuring for the pitching staff.

TBOM: Do the Braves have any prospects that we should keep an eye on?

Chief: Well, you won't see him in this series, but you'll probably see him later in the year. Andy Marte is the future for the Braves. He's a third baseman by trade, but he could see some time in the outfield if not at third this year. Many regard him as the top prospect in all of baseball.

TBOM: You've been affiliated with the Braves for more than 50 years – that's even more time than they've been in Atlanta. So who's older, you or Julio Franco?

Chief: Honestly, I don't know the answer to that. But I do know that Julio can still hit and I can't.

TBOM: Thanks for all of your insight, Chief Noc-a-Homa. I'd wish you and the Braves luck, but we Fish fans are kind of hoping for a sweep to start the year off right.


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