National League Preview from The Sports Network
Thursday, April 5th
(All times Eastern)
Atlanta Braves (0-0) at New York Mets (0-0), 1:10 p.m.
Probable Starting Pitchers: Atlanta - Tommy Hanson (0-0, 0.00)
New York - Johan Santana (0-0, 0.00)
(Sports Network) - Johan Santana makes his return to the mound this afternoon
when the New York Mets open their 2012 season against the Atlanta Braves at
Santana missed all of last season recovering from shoulder surgery, but the
two-time American League Cy Young Award winner remains one of the few reasons
to pay attention to this Mets team this season.
"Everyone wants to see Johan Opening Day," teammate Dillon Gee said.
"Obviously, once the season gets going, it doesn't matter what spot you're in,
you're going out there every five days. I think it's just the prestige of
Johan on Opening Day that's big for us."
Arguably the best pitcher in baseball during a five-year stretch from 2004-08
-- Santana owns a career 133-69 record and 3.10 ERA. Since joining the Mets
via trade and inking a six-year, $137.5 million contract extension in January
2008, Santana has gone 40-25 with a 2.85 ERA.
Expectations are at an all-time low for the Mets, but a healthy Santana would
go a long way to restoring some respectability to a franchise that has become
the butt of jokes in recent years.
"I'm very happy," Santana said. "It's going to be fun. It's a great feeling to
be back and be with these guys from the beginning I think is very important,
is huge for me. So I'm very happy that everything has been good."
For the offense, nearly all eight positions were spoken for as the spring
approached, but of course the unit will be looking to replace the loss of All-
Star shortstop Jose Reyes, who took his bat and speed to the division-rival
It will be a collective effort from within for the Mets, who had a largely
quite offseason -- at least by New York standards -- for the second straight
year as the franchise tries to recover financially from the Bernie Madoff
fraud scheme. The sun appears to be setting on that fiasco as owner Fred
Wilpon and team president Saul Katz reached a settlement on a lawsuit filed by
a trustee of the victims that will see the owners deal out $162 million.
With the Mets needing to keep an eye on their payroll, they were unable to
keep the home-grown Reyes in the fold. Instead, New York revamped its bullpen
in an effort to keep pace in the National League East, signing both Frank
Francisco and Jon Rauch to contracts while trading center fielder Angel Pagan
to the Giants for another righty in Ramon Ramirez as well as Pagan's
replacement in center (and Reyes' at the top of the order) in Andres Torres.
While Torres will be looking to replace one of the game's top leadoff hitters
in the lineup, it will be the young Ruben Tejada taking over in the field.
The Mets brass also decided to level the playing field a bit by changing the
dimensions of the offensively-frustrating Citi Field, bringing in the fences
in an effort to generate more power in Flushing. Coincidentally, that shift
could have hurt Reyes' numbers, especially in the triples department, had he
stayed on with New York.
Atlanta, meanwhile, enters what will be the final season in the great career
of third baseman Chipper Jones, while trying to erase the memory of a
disastrous 2011 season that saw the team collapse in epic fashion in
September. The Braves entered the final month in prime position to reach the
playoffs for a second straight season. However, they ended the month, and
season, on a five-game losing streak and one game out of the National League
Wild Card position.
That collapse has put a big chip on the shoulder of this year's Atlanta squad,
which enters its second season under manager Fredi Gonzalez following Bobby
Cox's retirement. The Braves could have used the experience of their former
manager down the stretch as they held an 8 1/2-game lead for the league's
extra playoff spot with 23 games to play.
However, a three-game sweep in Philadelphia started things on a downward
spiral, but Atlanta still led the wild card race by three games with five to
play. They lost all five, two in Washington and the final three at home to the
Phillies. A victory on the season's final day would have forced a tiebreaker
with the eventual World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.
The Braves lost 4-3 in extra innings.
Offense was once again a struggle for the Braves in 2011. Despite better-than-
expected seasons out of rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman and Jones,
Atlanta was near the bottom of the league with a .243 average and scored just
641 runs. The Braves were also forced into 55 one-run games, going 29-26.
Speaking of Jones, he will start his 19th and final year sidelined with a knee
injury. The team, though, is hoping he can be ready by their home opener on
Righty Tommy Hanson takes the hill today for the Braves in the first of what
the Braves hope will be many Opening Day assignments. Still five months shy of
his 26th birthday, Hanson will be the youngest Braves Opening Day starter
since a 23-year-old John Smoltz held the honor in 1991.
Hanson will also be trying put 2011 in his rear view mirror. Injuries led to
diminished velocity and only allowed him to make 22 starts, as he went 11-7
with a 3.60 ERA.
"I feel better," Hanson said. "Even that normal soreness that pitchers get,
I'm not as sore as I was in years past. I think I kind of found something that
I need to stay on top of and keep doing."
Hanson's spring didn't get off to the best of starts, as he suffered a
concussion in a car accident, as he drove to the club's first Spring Training
workout for pitchers and catchers. However, he is fine now and ready to go.
04/05 10:34:21 ET
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