Monday, March 10, 2008

Atlanta Braves Preview

2007 Finish: 84-78, 3rd in NL East

Key Losses:
SS Edgar Renteria, OF Andruw Jones, IF Willy Aybar, P Oscar Villareal

Key Acquisitions: P Tom Glavine, OF Mark Kotsay, P Will Ohman

During the spring of 2006, no one could have imagined that the Atlanta Braves would not only fail to make it to the post-season for the first time in about fifty years, but that they would fail again in '07. So after following up 14 division titles with two playoff-less years, the Braves have revamped much of their roster to try not to make it three in a row. Their team does look strong, but will it be enough to compete with, and defeat, the Phillies and Mets?

Projected Lineup:
1. Yunel Escobar SS
2. Mark Kotsay CF
3. Chipper Jones 3B
4. Mark Texiera 1B
5. Jeff Francoeur RF
6. Brian McCann C
7. Matt Diaz LF
8. Kelly Johnson 2B

Lineup Grade: B. This lineup probably looks strange to most MLB enthusiasts, in that it no longer revolves around CF Andruw Jones. But based on the way Jones played in '07, I think my grandma could have been more productive in the lineup, so this might not be a huge loss for the Braves. They have a good mix of established veterans like Jones and Texiera, homegrown talent in McCann and Francoeur, and some role-players like Kotsay and Kelly Johnson. This lineup is well balanced, but must also get some of that Bobby Cox Karma if they want to run with the big boys up north.

Projected Pitching Staff:
1. John Smoltz
2. Tim Hudson
3. Tom Glavine
4. Mike Hampton
5. Chuck James
CL: Rafael Soriano

Pitching Grade: B+. The starters are very old, but they don't seem to notice or let that get in their way. Smoltz and Glavine are still pitching like the Cy Young caliber guys they were during the Braves mid-1990's heyday, and Hudson finally delivered on the expectations Atlanta had when they dealt for him a few years back. If Hampton is actually healthy (big IF) and Chuck James continues to mature into a reliable starter, this pitching staff will win them many games and will be enough to keep the Braves in the hunt for the NL East title. Rafael Soriano should be much more reliable as a closer than the ill-fated Bob Wickman experiment.

Analysis: If Chipper and Hampton are healthy enough to play the majority of the year, they are one of the most well-balanced teams in the entire league. They have power, they play defense, they have both youth and experience. The pitching is solid and deep. Not to mention they have a manager who has forgotten more about baseball than you or your grandpa will ever know. I don't know if they can finish ahead of the Mets, but they should be a very strong Wild Card contender.

Projected Finish: 88-74.

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