So we come to the last team in the NL East – but certainly not the least – our hometown Atlanta Braves. The Braves have not made it to the post-season either of the last two seasons and are looking to reclaim their customary spot as winner of the NL East. To do so, they’ll need a strong starting rotation and an offense that can pick up the slack left by the departure of Andruw Jones and Edgar Renteria. Let’s take a closer look at the Braves and see if they have what it takes.
Offense: The Braves’ offense last year did well – 3rd in runs scored, 4th in batting average and on base percentage. The biggest change from last season will be the loss of Andruw Jones and Edgar Renteria. I expect to see Josh Anderson and Yunel Escobar replace these two guys – no clue what stats Anderson will put up in a full season, but I’d guess mid .200 batting average. Yunel batted .326 last year in 94 games, so we should see him continue to develop offensively. Even with the loss of Andruw and Edgar, we have Chipper, Teixeira, McCann, and Francoeur holding down the fort offensively and should come out near the top of the pack as an offense once again.
Defense: Defensively we’ve lost Andruw Jones, but we have another young gold glove winner playing outfield in Francoeur. He’ll help make center field easier for our new guy to cover. Escobar is a new face on defense as well, and he’s adept with the glove. Kelly Johnson had a few more errors at the end of the season than everyone would have liked, but he’s still developing his skills as a second baseman and we should see those glitches less in 2008. It wouldn’t hurt McCann to develop a better arm, but he’s still an elite national league catcher without it. We should see the defense hold the line in 2008 – with hopefully another Gold Glove for Francoeur.
Starting Pitching: This is where we’re looking good all of a sudden. Tim Hudson, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Chuck James, and Mike Hampton/Jair Jurrjens/someone else is a GREAT starting 5. As long as the top three can stay healthy and pitch good ball, we’ll have one of the best 3 punches in the league. This rotation could range anywhere from good to great, depending on who has what kind of year. I’d like to see a Cy Young award to Hudson this year, but I wouldn’t complain if Smoltzie and Glav landed it either.
Relief Pitching: So we lost a few guys out here – Mahay and Dotel notedly, but we still have some good arms. Rafael Soriano should land the closer role, and he’ll be good at it. That leaves Mike Gonzalez as one of the main setup men, and we should see him eat some innings up. He was hurt last season, but should be back at nearly full force in ’08. We’ll also have our favorite Aussie Peter Moylan out there, and hopefully he can have another great year. And we traded Jose Ascanio for Will Ohman, a lefty who should have the capacity to pitch well every few days. I think our bullpen looks good overall, but we could definitely use another arm out there just for good measure. If anywhere, I’d like to see Wren throw some money here.
Coaching: Bobby Cox is the man, as we all know. He’s been around since 1990 and this could be his last year. Bobby, if you retire, we will miss you greatly. Bobby has been the driving force and the constant over the years and has more loyalty to this team than anyone else I know. He has 2255 wins and 1763 losses overall, and has only had six losing seasons out of the 26 he’s coached. Bobby brings a great staff with him – Terry Pendleton as batting coach, Roger McDowel as pitching coach, and Eddie Perez as bullpen coach, along with the other guys. This may be his last year, so we may have to go all the way one more time, just for Bobby.
Recap: The Braves are looking good this year. There are some unknowns offensively (left field, center field, shortstop), but they have bolstered an already decent rotation with fan favorite Tom Glavine, and we should all be excited about the possibilities this team has. The rotation has the capacity to be darn good, the offensive production should be there, and if the bullpen can remain solid, we have the capability of winning a lot of games. We need to get Tim Hudson some run support this season, too. If everything falls into place, we have a very dangerous team that could delve into the playoffs after re-taking the division title. We need to go all the way this year if we want to do it soon – with Bobby gone, a younger rotation, and the potential loss of Teixeira on the free agent market, this is the year to go for it.
So you hear that, Braves players? Play hard, and play better than everyone else. It’s time to bring the post-season back to Atlanta.
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