MLB Team-By-Team Previews 2009: Atlanta Braves
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MLB Team-By-Team Previews 2009: After A 3-Year Playoff Drought, Can The Braves Start A New Streak?

3/26/09 in MLB   |   tpowell25   |   1627 respect

When we did the season preview last season, the theme throughout the whole preview was "IF they stay healthy", and that prognostication held true.  Injuries killed the Braves last season.  This year, they have a re-tooled rotation, a solid infield, but a lot of quesiton marks in the outfield. 

If the Braves stand a chance in the stout NL East, the starting rotation has to (1) stay healthy and (2) gel together.  It's nice when you redo your entire pitching staff and add some reliable arms, but they have to get a feel for their new team, new coach, and each other.  If these guys can get things going without missing much time, they can pile up some wins with an offense that will put plenty of runs on the board.  They have a solid bullpen that has proven the past two seasons that they are very effective until they start getting overused, which was a result of horrible starting pitching and injuries.  If our new "innings eaters" hold form, we're going to see the team ERA drop a good bit, and see the Braves in the thick of things come August.


Key losses

John Smoltz (took an offer from the Red Sox, and pissed off every fan in Atlanta)

Mike Hampton (picked up all of his broken pieces and headed to Houston)

Hampton kind of pulled the wool over the Braves' eyes.  He wasn't expected to be a Cy Young winner this season, but when he decided to leave, he left the Braves in a bigger pickle than before.  The Braves were in desperate need of pitching at the time, and could have used Hampton for a #4 or #5 starter.  After all of the patience that the Braves had with Hampton over the past 3 seasons with his injuries, the least he could have done was give them one season and helped them out.  I know he's a walking biology experiment, but he finished last season fairly strong for a man that had miissed the past 2 and a half seasons.  The least he could do was to help us out.

When Smoltz left Atlanta, it was pretty detrimental to Braves fans.  He had been there for almost 2 decades, been the face of the team, and always bounced back from his injuries.  A dispute over money (he felt the GM Frank Wren wasn't showing him any respect with the offer he was given, and I agree) pushed him out the door and on his way to Boston, where he got a much more respectable offer for a man in his shoes.  Atlanta was ready to ambush Frank Wren's home over this departure, so he had to do something quick to smooth over the situation

Key additions

Derek Lowe (SP)
Javier Vazquez (SP)
Kenshin Kawakami (SP)
Garrett Anderson (OF)
David Ross (C)
Eric O'Flaherty (bullpen)
Boone Logan (bullpen)

The Braves missed the boat on a few aces that were out there (Peavy and Burnett were pursued aggressively).  This was right after Smoltz left, so Wren had to do something to patch things up with the fans.  So he quickly added Lowe, Vazquez, and Kawakami.  Neither of these guys are considered ace material, but Lowe and Vazquez both are innings eaters.  With the way they pitch, it should go hand-in-hand at Turner Field, a pitchers ballpark.  I see no reason why either of these guys can't get at least 15 wins this season.  Kawakami was signed from Japan and has some proving to do.  But he has looked good so far in spring training and should have 10-15 wins in him.  He has a real advantage in the fact that no one has seen him yet.  So the first season at least should be a good one for him.

In past seasons, if Brian McCann got hurt or just needed a day off, the Braves were screwed.  No catcher on the bench was good enough either offensively or defensively to fill a backup role.  It was a huge hole in the lineup whenever McCann was out.  In comes David Ross.  He's not a top-of-the-line guy, but he is a solid defensive catcher and has a pretty decent bat.  He is going to help tremendously this season giving Heap some time off.

The Braves searched long and hard for a new outfielder.  They almost got Griffey.  Contemplated trades for players like Nady and Swisher.  But eventually landed veteran Garrett Anderson.  Anderson will platoon in left field with Matt Diaz, until one of them steps up and shows he can play everyday.  I love Anderson.  Always have.  But he has played his entire career with the Angels and in the American League.  Making the transition to the NL is going to be something to keep an eye on.  If he can do it successfully, that's good news for the Bravos.  If not, this one year deal could be a disaster.


Projected lineup

Josh Anderson/Jordan Shaefer/Gregor Blanco (CF)
Yunel Escobar (SS)
Chipper Jones (3B)
Brian McCann (C)
Jeff Francoeur (RF)
Kelly Johnson (2B)
Matt Diaz/Garrett Anderson (LF)
Casey Kotchman (1B)
*Pitchers spot*

Projected rotation

Derek Lowe
Javier Vazquez
Jair Jurrjens
Kenshin Kawakami
Tom Glavine/Jo Jo Reyes/Tommy Hanson

Mike Gonzalez (CL)
Peter Moylan (setup)
Rafael Soriano (setup)
Manny Acosta
Eric O'Flaherty
Boone Logan


Strengths

For the first time in about 4-5 years, the Braves' strength will finally be it's pitching again.  Like I said above, this won't be a dominating staff in terms of aces, but quality pitching is definitely there.  If this squad can stay healthy and push hard into June/July, Tim Hudson could return by then making the rotation even stronger.  That's a big "IF" since he is coming off of surgery, but if he does, then it will be huge.  And with the starters hopefully staying healthy and eating some innings, the bullpen will stay fresh and dominate the way they have for the first half of the season the past 2 years.

I know what some of you are thinking:  "That rotation doesn't really look all that strong."  Well, that's because it's missing a member.  To start the season, phenom Tommy Hanson will start the season at AAA just to "hone his skills".  That's what is being said at least.  Translation:  the Braves are giving all of the guys competing for the #5 spot a chance to prove themselves.  Whoever fades first, gets replaced by Hanson."  Hanson has been tearing it up in the minors for the past 2 seasons and has looked great in spring training.  He has an above average fastball and Cox has compared his slider to Smoltz's.  He will be in Atlanta very soon, and he is going to make that rotation pretty freaking good.

Weaknesses

I hate to say it, but the entire outfield is a weakness right now.  We don't know who will be in centerfield yet, but it will be someone young for sure.  That is always scary.  RIght now Josh Anderson probably has the inside position to start.  But hopefully, Jordan Schaefer will be starting out there before long.  He has been the "stud on his way up" for a couple of years.  If he can prove he is ready, Cox will have him in Atlanta before it starts getting warm.  But he still has to prove himself.  As I stated above, left field will be a toss up until Diaz and Anderson prove they can play everyday and make the transition.  Francoeur has been a head case in right field for over a year now.  He absolutely has to bounce back this season for Atlanta to have a chance.

Players to watch

The entire pitching staff.  But to be specific, Tommy Hanson.  How quick can he get to Atlanta?  Will he have to wait?  The sooner he gets in the rotation, the sooner I'll be excited about the rotation.

Projected finish

I'm going to do this from two points-of-view:

(Homer pick)  The Braves, despite all of the key quesiton marks, have what it takes to win the NL East.  Solid pitching from top to bottom and a lineup that will put up some runs has this team in position to make a run.  Why not?  The Mets like to self implode and the Phillies are due to crash and burn.  Who else is going to take the division?  Washington?

(Realistic)  Until we see all of the pieces gel together and give us some confidence, the Braves have to be picked to finish third in teh division.  They have a chance to make a run, but next season might be a more logical time to predict them going to the post season.


Time to end this rant

The Braves finally have a team that will boost some confidence in it's fans to start the season for the first time in a while.  Pitching is definitely there.  Hitting is there with some holes, but I'm going to be a good homer fan and assume those pieces will fall into place.  From top to bottom, the NL East is pretty solid, IMO.  It's going to be a dog fight and I don't think anyone will run away with the division.  What will make or break the Braves this season?  Youth.  If they have a hard time adjusting, it will be a long season.  If they can step in and provide the punch that they have displayed in spring training and in the minors, this is going to be a good season for Braves fans.
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4/8/09   |   MarkTheShark   |   590 respect

derms33 wrote:
lol...I think I did.  Sorry Braves Nation, last night was a drinkin night!

well they definitely SUCKED today..lol..at least their bullpen did up 10-3 and LOST! ouch!

4/8/09   |   derms33   |   17642 respect

MarkTheShark wrote:
Shawn did you post on the wrong thread..lol..

lol...I think I did.  Sorry Braves Nation, last night was a drinkin night!

4/8/09   |   MarkTheShark   |   590 respect

derms33 wrote:
Well, they suck thus far

Shawn did you post on the wrong thread..lol..

4/8/09   |   derms33   |   17642 respect

Well, they suck thus far

3/26/09   |   MarkTheShark   |   590 respect

Great as always Tom.
Not much of an NL guy, but it seems they are in a tough division...gonna be a hard road. Difficult to handicap the NL East.

3/26/09   |   maroon&gold4eve   |   13463 respect

Thats true.Carlyle is a forgotten man.Another,Charlie Morton.Morton,who I believe got pressed into action last year before he was ready showed signs of coming around at the end of the season.I also hope Peter Moylan can recover from last years setback.

3/26/09   |   tpowell25   |   1627 respect

You know another name that no one is mentioning Ron?  Buddy Carlyle.  He is never in the "plans", but seems to pop up and give the Braves solid outing after solid outing.

I think if he ends up as our emergency #5 starter, or the long innings man out of the bullpen, it will be a huge positive for the Braves.

3/26/09   |   maroon&gold4eve   |   13463 respect

   Great job Tom.
  I guess I may be an eternal optimist,but I think the Braves could be very good.Like stated earlier,Pitching and staying healthy will again be the key.One thing I haven't seen posted yet,and will be a BIG question.Tim Hudson could be back by seasons end.If Hudson can return to old form and knock off the rust quickly,he will be well rested and a huge help for the stretch run in the dog days of August.Jose Campillo also showed some signs of being a pretty good pitcher at times last season.Thats two arms not many people are mentioning.
 Offense,thats a different story.The Braves should be able to score some runs.I believe Jeff Francoeur is the key.Alot of people were really down on Frency last season(deservedly so) I beleive will bounce back and have a solid season.Chipper,when healthy,is still one of the best hitters in the game.Brian McCann has proven himself and Garret Anderson's experience show prove to be an asset.
 I for one would love to see some more speed at the top of the order.Josh Anderson could be the answer.If Anderson can get on base that will really help the offense cause havoc for opposing defenses.
 Win,lose,or draw baseball is back!Thank goodness.

 

3/26/09   |   Bravesfan23

   I agree that the Braves SHOULD be contenders this year in the NL East if the pitching stays healthy, the bullpen doesn't get overworked, and the dreaded injury bug doesn't bite.  That is something that has plagued the Braves the last few seasons.  Another thing that needs to happen is Chipper Jones needs to try to play in at least 120 games if possible.  He is what makes that lineup go and without him in the middle, it changes the whole complexity. 
   As for the rotation, I think the Braves rotation is definitely a big upgrade from last year.  With Lowe, Vazquez, and Jurrjens at the top of the rotation, they have a very formidable 1-2-3.  If Kawakami comes along like we hope and Glavine can stay healthy, the rotation will be one of the strongest its been in a long time.  Not to mention, we still have Reyes, Morton, Parr, and our ace in the whole...Tommy Hanson.  I believe with the rotation that is assembled, they have depth that will keep the bullpen fresh.  Other than the Florida Marlins, I would say that the Braves have the deepest rotation in the division.  Its just a matter if they can stay healthy.  Plus, if we are lucky, we can get Hudson back for the stretch run and he will give the team even more depth.  I am just looking forward to next season when we have a completely healthy Hudson to the rotation we already have.
   I think the signing of David Ross will be bigger than most people think.  He is a great defensive catcher and can hit better than any backup catcher that the Braves have had in a long time.  As you stated, the outfield will be the biggest glaring weakness.  We need Francoeur to bounce back to form with somewhere around 30 HRs and 100 RBIs and we need to see what production we get from the center field position.  We know what we will get from Anderson ( close to .300 avg, 15-20 HRs, 75-100 RBIs) and it will be better than what we had last year.  The potential is there to be a great team but the rotation needs to stay healthy and hopefully the bullpen doesn't get overworked. 

But great writeup Tom!  I hope my Braves can at least contend all the way into September.

3/26/09   |   taylordanley   |   6 respect

great write-up!

3/26/09   |   Scott   |   52037 respect

Picking up Lowe and Vazquez helps out the Braves more then people realize.  Like Tom said, they may not be true aces but they can eat innings and for a team that has a couple of question marks towards the back end of the rotation, this will help keep the bullpen "fresh" should they be exhausted covering for the #3-5 starters. 

As for the youth, it's a tough situation when you are going to rely so heavily on them to play prominent roles.  You are probably going to see glimpses of greatness and you are also going to see glaring rookie mistakes at the worse possible time.  I think the Braves can be competitive but I dont see any major run this year.  Next year and the year after, I think the Braves can make a serious run back to the top of the NL East

3/26/09   |   tpowell25   |   1627 respect

hskrdave wrote:
 Good Write Up Tom.  And yeah Hampton wasn't a loss, other than the fact he will go win the Cy with Houston.

You know what would really help?  Tommy making Braves Fans forget he was gone for a couple of years and throw down 17 wins.

I guess I'll go check out Richmond-Gwinnett when they come to town.  Just after Easter is my first chance.

Ok ok, I'll admit it.  Hampton wasn't a key loss.  I put him in there just because he pissed me off the way he left.  The Braves gave him so much money, time, and showed so much patience.  The least he could have done was give them a little help when they needed it.  And when he left, they were desperate for arms (even his half arm).

3/26/09   |   tpowell25   |   1627 respect

wrote:
I agree with everything except this - Mike Hampton wasn't a key loss. When the hell did he actually pitch for us? That was the worst move the Braves pulled off in a while till they lowballed Smoltz and let him walk.

Like I said, he wasn't an ace by any means.  But you have to remember the situation that the Braves were in when he left.  Lowe, Vazquez, and Kawakami weren't even considered possibilities yet.  All we had was Jurrjens, Campillo, and Reyes (Glavine wasn't signed yet either).  Hampton wasn't expected to win 20 games, but his ungrateful butt could have hung around and kept the Braves from bringing up 3-4 minor leaguers that aren't even close to being ready.  Thankfully, after he left we snagged those 3 mentioned.  Those are the first good moves that Wren has made since becoming the GM.

And he did pitch last season for the Braves.  He came back from injury (again) and started 13 games.  He didn't have mind blowing numbers, but for someone that missed 2 1/2 seasons, he looked pretty good.  We needed him at one point.

3/26/09   |   hskrdave   |   10495 respect

 Good Write Up Tom.  And yeah Hampton wasn't a loss, other than the fact he will go win the Cy with Houston.

You know what would really help?  Tommy making Braves Fans forget he was gone for a couple of years and throw down 17 wins.

I guess I'll go check out Richmond-Gwinnett when they come to town.  Just after Easter is my first chance.

3/26/09   |   primo   |   1 respect

No Smoltz as the anchor for the team. 4th place behind Florida