Regular Season Record: 79-83,
3rd in the NL East, 18 games behind the New York Mets
Home Ballpark: Turner Field
Learning the Chop
RP Mike Gonzalez (Trade via Pittsburgh Pirates)
1B/OF Craig Wilson (Free agency from New York Yankees)
INF/OF Chris Woodward (Free agency from New York Mets)
RP Tanyon Sturtze (Free agency from New York Yankees)
RP Rafael Soriano (Trade via Seattle Mariners)
Putting down the Tomahawks
1B Adam LaRoche (Trade via Pittsburgh Pirates)
2B Marcus Giles (Free agency to San Diego Padres)
RP Chris Reitsma (Free agency to Seattle Mariners)
RP Chris Ray (Waivers to Kansas City)
SP Horacio Ramirez (Trade via Seattle Mariners)
The Skinny: This upcoming year will either be feast or famine for the Atlanta Braves. A lot of youngsters will be required to play big roles, and they include Kelly Johnson, Scott Thorman, Chuck James, and Kyle Davies, just to name a few. Most of those guys have had success at the Major League level before, so it’s just a matter of them repeating what has already been done. Will it be done? We’ll find out.
Strengths: The bullpen for the 2007 Atlanta Braves should be much better than the 2006 version (knock on wood). Last year, Kenny Ray was a legitimate late-inning option for manager Bobby Cox, which tells a lot. Now, Cox will have power righty Rafael Soriano, power lefty Mike Gonzalez, Blaine Boyer, and Macay McBride setting up Bob Wickman. This doesn’t even include Chad Paronto (56.2 IP, 3.18 ERA) and Oscar Villarreal (92.1 IP [four starts], 3.61 ERA). If the seven or so arms perform as well as is expected, this may be the strongest ‘pen in the National League next season.
Another reason to hope in 2007 is the Braves’ offense. It seems as if similar numbers -- if not even better -- should come from every position on the field. Youngsters like Brian McCann, Jeff Francoeur, and Kelly Johnson figure to out produce what they did last year (or in the case of Johnson, what Giles did). Veteran Chipper Jones is looking toward playing 150 games and Andruw Jones is looking for that big free agent contract. Don’t forget, this ballclub finished second in runs scored last year, better than the vaunted New York Mets’ lineup and the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.
Weaknesses: The starting rotation projects to be the biggest weakness for the Braves. Mike Hampton is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and it takes a while for one’s control to come back after missing that much time. For someone who relies so heavily on placing his splitter, that could be a problem. Tim Hudson had a horrible season last year and needs to regain his bulldog mentality. If not, he is a league average pitcher. And the final two slots will be occupied by Kyle Davies and Chuck James, two youngsters who need to prove their earlier success was not a fluke.
2B Kelly Johnson
SS Edgar Renteria
3B Chipper Jones
CF Andruw Jones
C Brian McCann
RF Jeff Francoeur
1B Craig Wilson / Scott Thorman
LF Craig Wilson / Matt Diaz / Ryan Langerhans
Keys to Success: The key to success for the Braves is the performance of their starting rotation, but that could be said of most any team. If healthy and pitching right, John Smoltz, Hudson, and Hampton match up with any three any National League team boasts. If, however, they don’t throw that well, then the Braves will lose out on the division once again. It all comes down to the starting rotation, but that’s a cliché. Success is always dependant upon pitching.
Prediction: This will be Andruw Jones’ last season as an Atlanta Brave. But that’s not really a prediction, but more of an inevitable truth. The Braves are good bets to win about 90-92 games, which should be enough to edge out the New York Mets (weak rotation) and Philadelphia Phillies (not enough depth in the bullpen). I know that many experts are writing off the Braves, but haven’t they won 14 of their last 15 division titles? You can’t bet against that kind of dominance.
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