The Braves figure to be legitimate contenders in the playoff conversation this season, thanks to one of the most solid starting rotations in the National League and a good balance of experienced and young up-and-coming position players. 2010 will be Bobby Cox's final season as manager, so his players have particular motivation to perform well and acquire another championship for him. With the Phillies and Marlins appearing to be strong competitors in their division, the Braves seem to have their work cut out for them.
2009 Regular Season record: 86-76
Rank: 3rd in the NL East, 4th in the Wild Card
Home Park: Turner Field
OF - Melky Cabrera, acquired via trade from New York Yankees
OF - Eric Hinske, free agent signing
1B - Troy Glaus, free agent signing
RP - Billy Wagner, free agent signing
RP - Takashi Saito, free agent signing
RP - Jesse Chavez, acquired via trade from Tampa Bay Rays
Strengths: Pitching and Youth
1B - Adam LaRoche, free agent signing with Arizona Diamondbacks
2B - Kelly Johnson, free agent signing with Arizona Diamondbacks
OF - Garret Anderson, free agent signing with Los Angeles Dodgers
OF - Jeff Francoeur, mid-season trade with New York Mets
OF - Ryan Church, non-tendered and free agent signing with Pittsburgh Pirates
OF - Greg Norton, non-tendered
SP - Javier Vazquez, traded to New York Yankees (for Melky Cabrera)
RP - Rafael Soriano, traded to Tampa Bay Rays
RP - Mike Gonzalez, free agent signing with Baltimore Orioles
RP - Boone Logan, traded to NYY (for Melky Cabrera)
The Braves have continued their long-standing tradition of making pitching their strong suit. It's true that their rotation took a hit when they had to trade Javier Vazquez (15-10, 2.87 ERA in 2009) after they were unable to trade Derek Lowe (15-10, 4.67 ERA in 2009). However, they should still have one of the deepest rotations in the NL with the likes of youngsters Jair Jurrjens (14-10, 2.60 ERA) and Tommy Hanson (11-4, 2.89 ERA), and returning veterans Lowe, Tim Hudson (2-1, 3.61 ERA), and Kenshin Kawakami (7-12, 3.86 ERA). Their bullpen could also prove to be a strength, thanks to the presence of newcomers Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito as well as returning hurlers Peter Moylan and Eric O'Flaherty. They also have a strong core group of young position players in C Brian McCann, SS Yunel Escobar, 2B Martin Prado and rookie sensation RF Jason Heyward.
Weaknesses: Many Key Players Have History of Health Problems
All teams need their key players to remain healthy for the majority of the season, and this is especially true for the Braves. Chipper Jones, Troy Glaus and Takashi Saito all have had injury-plagued careers, and Tim Hudson and Billy Wagner are recovering from recent surgeries. Jurrjens has had an early Spring Training shoulder scare that the Braves will need to keep an eye on, and McCann and Nate McClouth hope that their vision problems are a thing of the past. While they have a strong presence of bench players in OF Eric Hinske, OF Matt Diaz, IF/OF Omar Infante and C David Ross, they don't have much long-term backup in case Glaus, Chipper, Escobar or Prado miss significant playing time. The Braves could have a very solid lineup that should help support their pitching staff with the runs they need, but only if their key players are able to hold up during the year.
Chipper Jones will try to come back strong from an injury-riddled season in 2009.
CF - Nate McClouth
2B - Martin Prado
3B - Chipper Jones
1B - Troy Glaus
C - Brian McCann
RF - Jason Heyward
SS - Yunel Escobar
LF - Matt Diaz/Melky Cabrera
OF/1B Eric Hinske
IF/OF Omar Infante
OF Matt Diaz/Melky Cabrera
C David Ross
One Question that Needs Answering:
In addition to the questions surrounding health, a major question for the Braves this season will be rookie phenom Jason Heyward. Heyward, whom many see as the top prospect in all of baseball, is a five-tool player -- he hits for average and power, has good speed, plays good defense and has a strong arm. There is a definite need for Heyward to contribute over the course of the entire season. This question will be answered quickly, and then the only question will be how well the highly-touted outfielder lives up to his incredible hype.
The Braves have a talk task in dethroning the reigning NL East champion Philadelphia Phillies, who have added ace Roy Halladay and Placido Polanco to their already strong team. They will also battle the Florida Marlins in the race for the NL East crown and possible Wild Card berth. Nevertheless, they are a legitimate contender for a postseason spot, and with their strong pitching staff, a World Series appearance isn't out of the question.