Over the next five days I will run through the NL East teams and offer my predictions on how the year will play out. We'll go in alphabetical order and see if we can wade through this year's possibilities.
Atlanta Braves: Lineup CF: Nate McLouth 2B: Martin Prado 3B: Larry “Chipper” Jones 1B: Troy Glaus C: Brian McCann SS: Yunel Escobar RF: Matt Diaz or Eric Hinske LF: Melky Cabrera Bench: OF/1B Hinske, OF Blanco, OF Schaffer, IF Omar Infante, C David Ross
Pitching Staff: SP: Tim Hudson SP: Jair Jurjens SP: Derek Lowe SP: Kenshin Kawakami SP: Tommy Hanson CL: Billy Wagner RP: Takashi Saito, Peter Moylan, Kris Medlen, Eric O’Flaherty, Manny Acosta, Jesse Chavez
The Braves would have been a much more formidable foe in 2010 if they had not traded Javier Vazquez for the Melk-man. The trade looks ugly for the Braves on the surface but the addition of Arodys Vizcaino and Mike Dunn will be of great benefit in the near future. While Dunn is nothing special, Vizcaino has the stuff to be a great major league starter. However, for 2010 the Braves have really hurt their chances for contending. With Vazques on the staff the Braves rotation was a legitimate contender for best in baseball honors. Without him they turn in to a solid staff - but with a similar offensive build as 2009 I can't see the Braves making any progress in the National League. Troy Glaus could be better than LaRoche but he has an equal chance to blow out any number of appendages and be lost for the year. Melky Cabrera is a defensive upgrade to Garrett Anderson in LF but offensively he brings replacement level offense to the team. Another problem with the Braves offensively is the lack of a true leadoff man, McLouth should not be the go-to guy here. I think a much better option would be to leadoff Prado, with Escobar batting behind him. The problem is that Escobar flourished hitting in the 5-6 hole in 2009 and Bobby Cox will be hard pressed to move him out of that spot. I think the offense would have a much higher rate of success if the order went - Prado, Escobar, Chipper, Glaus, McCann, McClouth, Diaz, Cabrera. In fact, they may be better served by starting Infante in LF over Cabrera. In the bullpen the Braves have added Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito who are both good veteran pitchers. The problem is that the same bullpen lost Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, which to me, are both better options in the pen right now than Wagner and Saito. The bullpen had a rough time last year and was only saved by the resurgence of Soriano and Gonzalez - without them Wagner and Saito will have to pitch often and pitch well for the pen to succeed. The current makeup of the Braves bullpen has the possibility to be very good, but I think (as with Troy Glaus) there is about equal opportunity for the bullpen to fail miserably. In conclusion, I think this is a good Braves team. In fact I think the Braves are really better than any team in the NL West (besides the Dodgers) and any team in the NL Central (other than the Cardinals) but in the tough NL East I think the Braves will finish in 3rd place behind the Phillies and the Mets. If they had been able to retain Javier Vazquez and they had been able to sign Johnny Damon to play LF - I think the Braves may have been real contenders to win the NL East - alas, those things did not happen.