Here is my full Atlanta Braves preview. For the rest of the NL East teams, here's my previous entry.
Atlanta Braves (2009 – 3rd place; 86-76 record)
2009 Recap – The Braves were in the wild card running until the final week until the Rockies clinched the spot. A four-game sweep by the Nationals to end the season regulated the Braves to 3rd place in the NL East. The Braves started off slowly, especially offensively, but picked up late in the year during their wild card push in August and September. Their center field problem, aka Jordan Schafer, was solved thanks to a mid-season move to get Nate McClouth from the Pirates. Martin Prado was a huge surprise for Atlanta, with his play earning the starting 2B job over Kelly Johnson and his bat keying the Braves 2<sup>nd</sup> half run. Brian McCann and Chipper Jones anchor the Braves batting order and Derek Lowe leads a formidable pitching staff.
Projected Lineup/Batting Order – [1/CF] Nate McLouth, [2/SS] Yunel Escobar, [3/3B] Chipper Jones, [4/C] Brian McCann, [5/2B] Martin Prado, [6/1B] Troy Glaus / Eric Hinske, [7 & 8/OF] Melky Cabrera, Matt Diaz, Jason Heyward
Best off-season move – First Base –Troy Glaus / Eric Hinske – While the Braves could have signed Adam LaRoche to a deal, they decided to make a couple of value moves and bring some utility depth to their roster. Glaus plays third base as well and can spell Chipper and Hinske can also take some days in the outfield.
Worst off-season move – Javier Vazquez – I didn’t have a problem with the trade itself, but if Melky Cabrera isn’t starting for the Braves somewhere in the outfield then this was a terrible trade for the Braves. I know the Braves had a surplus of starters last year, but if Javy is in the Braves rotation and Medlen and Kawakami are in the bullpen for long relief, is anyone complaining about a Lowe-Vazquez-Jurrjens-Hudson-Hanson
rotation? I don’t think so.
Move that needs to pan out – Closer. If Billy Wagner pitches like he did to end last season, then this could be an improvement over the Soriano/Gonzalez platoon of seasons past. If it doesn’t work out then the Braves could be in for a long season of heartburn and indigestion in the late innings.
Player to Watch – OF Jason Heyward – How could it not be him? I already want to nickname him the “The Junkyard Dog” after reading about his batting practice sessions during spring training. Everywhere I hear about this kid I only hear positive things and that he is worth the hype. This means I expect a long contract extension for him when Chipper retires.
They’ll make the playoffs if…everything comes together. The Braves as an organization have been on the outside looking in at the playoffs. But in recent years it seems that the Braves have just been missing one thing or one injury breaks their season. This year the Braves seem to be set up to make a run at the playoffs and the Phillies for the NL East title.
NL EAST OUTLOOK
Projected Wins – Phillies (90-95), Braves (85-90), Marlins (80-85), Mets (75-80), Nationals (65-70)
I expect the Phillies to remain the class of the division. Atlanta and Florida will be in the hunt for the Wild Card. I think the Mets will take a step forward, but they don't have enough pitching to make a playoff run. I think the Nationals will be improved but are still a couple of years away from contending.
NL East Pitcher of the Year – Phillies Roy Halladay – I know, it's a layup, but still, how can you pick against him? He's dominated the AL forever and now he's facing NL lineups that are considerably weaker.
NL East Player of the Year – Braves Brian McCann – Last year he started slow after having vision problems. This year I expect him to start strong and hit cleanup in a fully protected and deep lineup in Atlanta.
NL East Rookies of the Year – Braves Heyward / Nationals Strasburg – There's so much hype behind these two guys, all they have to do is contribute to win these awards in the National League, barring another rookie somewhere having a career year.
Phillies World Series Berth (10-1) – I don't think they'll three-peat in the NL. Teams exposed their bullpen flaws last year and there's only so long that offense can carry this team.
NL East Wild Card Berth (5-1) – Between the Braves, Marlins and even the sleeper Mets, the NL East has a great chance to have a team win the wild card. Assuming the division doesn't completely tear each other up, which I'm sure will happen.
Nationals .500 division record (50-1) – I'd take this bet. Last year the Nationals were just awful but usually they play the division tough. At the very least, they'll be much improved against the NL East from last year.
Braves O/U 150 HRs in 2010 – They only hit 149 as a team last year (much less if you take away the one McLouth and LaRoche hit with other teams). So can this year's team put together some power numbers?
Well, that's all folks. As always the comments are appreciated. I'll be back with the baseball in-between March Madness and conference tourneys and of course for April and the start of the regular season. Again, here's the link to my previous entry and the rest of my NL East team previews. Thanks for reading everyone.