30 Teams in 30 Days: Atlanta Braves Preview

Last Season: 86-76 (-7)
Over/Under: 85.5 (-115)

Notable Additions

  • Eric Hinske
  • Troy Glaus
  • Billy Wagner
  • Melky Cabrera
  • Jesse Chavez

Notable Subtractions

  • Rafael Soriano (RHP)
  • Garrett Anderson
  • Javier Vazquez

Three Things To Love

1) The Return Of Tim Hudson: The most exciting thing for the Braves’ Faithful is the fact their rotation features three guys who have had ace stuff at some point in their careers. Tim Hudson appeared in September last season and pitched well for a guy getting his feet wet in September. Between Hudson, Derek Lowe, and Jair Jurrjens — the Braves’ rotation has a chance to be the best in the division depending on what the Phillies’ starters decide to do this year.

Martin Prado For Kelly Johnson: Kelly Johnson’s 2009 was not nearly up to his 2007 and 2008 campaigns. He saw his starting position taken over by Martin Prado. Bad news for Kelly Johnson. Good news for Braves’ fans as Prado turned out to be a rock-solid everyday player. He threw together .307/.358/.464 and punched Johnson’s ticket out of town. Presumably, someone will pick up Johnson to fill a second base or bench gap but the Braves replaced a decent-hitting second baseman with a great-hitting second baseman. Between Brian McCann, Prado, Yunel Escobar, and Nate McClouth — the Braves are getting a ton of good hitting from non-traditional positions, and it helps them survive both Chipper’s two trips to the DL and the work of Troy Glaus at first base.

Billy Wagner: Having watched Billy Wagner’s tenure with the Mets, the Braves should know exactly what they’re getting. Wagner is a great regular season closer with the ability to mow through easy saves without breaking a sweat. However, he’s also shown the tendency in the last few seasons to tire out by the time August, September, and October roll around. If there’s one huge strike against him, it’s that he’s not willing to be thrown out of rhythm at all. If he’s put in the game any time other than the top of the ninth inning with nobody on base, he’s prone to falling apart. Five out saves? Come in with the bases loaded? Strap in for danger. Presuming that Bobby Cox can manage him correctly and keep him from losing it down the stretch, this could be a big pick-up for the Braves.

Three Things To Hate

Chipper’s Older: The Braves are quite possibly the shallowest team in the division. As mentioned, their middle infielders and catcher give them the ability to sign a rotating array of guys from Donesville to man first base (this year featuring the dearly-departed Troy Glaus and Eric Hinske). However, they also have to pencil Chipper in for 45 games from the dugout. When this happens, life isn’t good with multiple .230 hitters and the Braves will revert to their perennial offensive issues.

The Specter Of Melky: On the surface, replacing Garrett Anderson with the much younger and sprier Melky Cabrera is a good thing. Underneath, though, there’s a sulky guy who the Yankees sent to the minors for dogging it in the field. Getting shipped from the World Series winner to Atlanta, and away from his running buddies, might have a terrible impact on Melky’s play.

The Derek Lowe Clock: Lowe will be 37 this season and playing the second year of his four year contract. Last season, His ERA ballooned to 4.67, his highest since his final season in Boston. His WHIP skyrocketed to 1.5 from 1.1 and he gave up a career high 232 hits. When a sinkerball pitcher stops being able to sink, due to age, injury, or whatever, they quickly become a batting practice pitcher. When a guy has a bad season at 36, he tends to not bounce back.

Three Things That Will Be Fun To Watch

1) The Braves are a young first baseman away from a really good team. In the past, they’ve been willing to rent a guy for three months if they’re in contention. If the Cubs fall out of it and offer up Derrek Lee for prospects, I expect Atlanta to be heavily in the mix. History says they’ll be able to hoodwink the Cubs by offering up their worst prospects.

2) The Bobby Cox retirement tour. If for no other reason then to see how many ways he gets thrown out of baseball games this year. Will the umpires be less likely to throw him out because it’s his last season? Can we gamble on who the last umpire to toss him will be? Is there an over/under? Will every umpire want to be the last guy to throw him out? I feel like there should be an entire prop-bet section on Pinnacle Sports for just Bobby Cox’s retirement tour.

3) Jurrjens and Hanson: If Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson are good as last season indicated, the Braves are going to have a really good, cost-controlled rotation for the next few seasons. Watching these two develop together is going to be a great time for Braves’ fans.

Summary: The specter of Cox’s retirement is a little intangible that might motivate this team and push them a little harder down the stretch. I expect them to be in contention for the Wild Card for most of the season. That said, I just don’t see them having quite enough offense to get to the 93ish wins they’ll need in this division. The Braves will be slightly better than last season, but if they wind up with Lee, this win total is subject to change. 89-73, Over 85.5, 3rd

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