30 Teams in 30 Days: Atlanta Braves Roundtable

As the second part of our baseball preview, we are working with members of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance to offer 4 questions in a roundtable format.

Our guest bloggers is Matt Seybold from The Sporting Hippeaux.

Question 1 – Have the moves made Atlanta competitive with Philadelphia? They’ve had one of the better post seasons in baseball, but is it enough to compete in the East?

Edwin: The Atlanta Braves made a few key moves, but all they needed was one in order to remain competitive with the Phillies. Not only will the Braves compete in the East, but they will win the National League Pennant, making it to the World Series. It really only takes two words to explain…Eric Hinske.

The last three teams he’s played for in the last three years have made the World Series. Boston ’07, Tampa Bay ’08, and the Yankees ’09.

It’s not guaranteed that the Braves will win, but Hinske will keep his streak alive proving to be the Robert Horry of Major League Baseball.

Eugene: While the Hinske theory is nice, I don’t see upgrades on the team. Wagner and Saito are a wash for Gonzalez and Soriano. I don’t see Melky Cabrera as a good everyday player. Their offense is still going to be second to the Phillies, and also possibly behind the Marlins and Mets.

I do like their rotation better, but the questions around Jair Jurrjens are a concern.

Daniels: The Braves addressed their pitching (which was required) and their closing situation (also required) — but they never updated their offense. As long the punch in their offense remains the slowly decaying corpse of Chipper Jones and his 120 game/season average — they have problems. Also worrisome, Larry’s average and OPS+ fell 100 and 58 points, respectively, last season. When that happens at 37, alarm bells go off. Melky Cabrera was not the answer to this.

Matt: Honestly, I may be in the minority, but I’m not all that impressed by the Braves offseason. I like Melky Cabrera quite a bit, actually, but if the aim were to win this year, the Vazquez trade makes absolutely no sense. With Vazquez, they had one of the best rotations in the league. Without him, while still decent, it isn’t nearly as intimidating. The Braves are relying way too heavily on players with long injury histories (Chipper Jones, Troy Glaus, Tim Hudson) and youngsters (Tommy Hanson, Jason Heyward) who, though extraordinarily talented, are almost certainly going to suffer some growing pains in their first full year in the bigs. Best case scenario, the Braves finish in second place and are in the chase for the Wild Card, but, realistically, I think they are a third place team.

Kraig: No. Even though depth with the addition of Troy Glaus and power in outfield Melky Cabrera, the pitching, specifically the bullpen will be a problem. Billy Wagner was a reliable addition, but he is aging. The bullpen lacks long relief and was inconsistent last year in showing the ability to close out games. The same problems will show this year.

Jeff: Atlanta didn’t do anywhere near enough to be in Philly’s class, in my opinion — truthfully, I think the Phils are the easiest Division Winner to pick — but about the Braves, Cabrera is a good player, but I don’t think someone to build a lineup around — everyone’s already discussed the age issue they have and I must agree, trading Vazquez is NOT a way to win now — Atlanta should consider a wild-card challenging season a success.

Question 2 – Since this is his last year, who will replace Bobby Cox?

Daniels: As a Mets fan, I’m hoping Dusty Baker.

Eugene: What a way to kill that young pitching…

I think they have the perfect in house candidate in Terry Pendleton. He’s familiar with the team and knows Bobby Cox’s style of managing, which has worked for the team over the long run. I’ve been lobbying for the Cardinals bringing him in as the replacement for Tony LaRussa, but now that Cox is done after the season he’ll get his shot there.

Matt: No doubt Pendleton is among the frontrunners, especially if the Braves make a point of promoting from within. I would bet they will also interview Bobby Valentine, Willie Randolph, and Alan Trammell. Next year will be very interesting in terms of managerial openings. In addition to Cox, Lou Pinella, Dusty Baker, Joe Torre, and Cito Gaston will all be at the end of their current contracts, so there could be a whole host of notable managers contemplating whether to re-up, move on, or retire.

Daniels: Boy I can’t wait until the Mets fire Manuel and hire Dusty Baker. That’s going to be tremendous.

Jeff: Any chance Glenn Hubbard gets a shot at the Braves job AB (after Bobby)?

Kraig: Terry Pendleton after Bobby in my opinion.

Question 3 – Is this the best rotation in baseball?

Jeff: Best rotation in baseball?? Atlanta?? I don’t think so — Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami — not even close, IMO — I don’t think the Braves even top their Division (Philly) — The best rotation in baseball (and deepest) is in Boston: Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Clay Buchholz, Tim Wakefield — that’s scary good!

Honorable mention to the Yankees for baseball’s best rotation — CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Javier Vasquez, Andy Pettite, Joba Chamberlain is pretty good, too

Kraig: I couldn’t agree more with Jeff.

Daniels: If Erik Bedard has anything left in the tank, I’d have to at least throw an honorable mention to Seattle’s top 3 of King Felix, Cliff Lee, and Bedard.

But no, Atlanta probably isn’t even the best in their division.

Matt: I agree, not even close. If they still had Vazquez at the top, they might be in the discussion for the best rotation in the National League, but as it is, who is their horse? Tim Hudson? Sure, he’s pitched at an Ace level before, but he’s coming off Tommy John surgery, so who knows what we can expect. Tommy Hanson? If Braves fans are expecting him to be Tim Lincecum, I fear they will be sorely disappointed. There will be a learning curve. Jair Jurrjens? He’s already got shoulder problems, probably due to pitching so many innings in ’09. I see an Ervin Santana/Cole Hamels-like regression.

The Braves rotation is solid, if they stay healthy, which is a massive “if.” But it isn’t superlative, even in the best case scenario.

Daniels: Besides the fact that the Phillies are anchored by, arguably, the best pitcher in the NL and if Cole Hamels doesn’t have a bounce back year, I’ll eat a Phillies hat. And by Phillies hat, I mean a cheesesteak.

Question 4 – How will the team finish in the standings?

Trent: I think it’s reasonable to see this team in second place by the end of the season. It would take a significant drop off from Philly for them to overtake the top of the division and that’s something that I just don’t see happening. 85 wins is a reasonable count for them to attain.

Jeff: I agree with Trent, 2nd is reasonable for Atlanta — but that’s due more to who’s in their division, not their own talent level — I think they will battle Florida for that 2nd spot….unless the Mets somehow find some pitching. However, I don’t expect the Braves to contend for post-season play.

Matt: Atlanta could make run at second place, but my prediction is third, well behind the Phillies and neck-and-neck with Marlins and Mets.

Daniels: I’m still somewhat convinced the Mets are going to be better than everyone thinks, so I’ll say third with 83 wins.

Russ: Until I see the Mets pick up another quality arm, I still see the Braves in 2nd…ahead of the Mets and Marlins.

Jeff: The Mets are doomed to disappoint — but does anyone see Atlanta contending for the Wild Card?

Matt: I wouldn’t be massively surprised if Atlanta hung around in the Wild Card until the very end, but in my current power rankings, I’ve got nine NL teams in front of them. Granted, five of those (Marlins, Reds, Diamondbacks, Brewers, and Giants) could be considered more or less tied, but I still think the odds are stacked against the Braves. They need everything to go right and everybody to stay healthy. Slim chance.

Jeff: …and Bingo was his name-o!

Em: I think Atlanta’s going to have to work hard for a chance at a wild card spot, having to beat out the Rockies and Marlins, should finish top 6 again.

For the other 29 teams, click here.

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