NL East: Shaken Up – Part 2: The Atlanta Braves

The Good:

As it goes year after year, the starting pitching continues to be the strong suit for the Atlanta. Ace John Smoltz continues to dazzle, defying logic and age. Mike Hampton coming off elbow surgery for the first time in two years will be at 100% and hopes to return to his All-Star level. Rookie Chuck James impressed in 18 starts last year. The Braves will definitely be looking for a big year from Tim Hudson, hoping he returns the form he obtained in the first half of the decade. Additionally, Bob “Pass the Potatoes” Wickman proved to be an outstanding closer for the Braves, posting a very respectable 18 after his trade from the Indians.

Not only are the Braves solid on starting pitching, their youth movement is in full effect as well. Credit Ted Turner for keeping the team competitive while replenishing the ranks with the likes of C Brian McCann (.333/.388/.572), P Chuck James (11-4), 3B Scott Thorman, OF Jeff Francoeur (29 HR’s and 116 RBI), P Mike Gonzalez and Martin Prado.

The Bad:

2006 proved to be a season of incredible inconsistency, as the injury bug bit them hard. Chipper and Andruw Jones both saw considerable time on the DL, Hampton missed the entire season, and Tim Hudson was nicked up with various small injuries. The only thing really consistent about last year was the bullpen woes. The young, inexperienced bullpen was knocked around all year; the Braves will be counting on pen arms Blaine Boyer, Tyler Yates, and Macay McBride to be better. With acquisitions of Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, they will be.

The Bottom Line:

They could have some young players develop and go on a ridiculous tear (ala 2006 Tigers) or they could simply be the inconsistent injury riddled team they were last year. The record of 79-83 does NOT reflect how good this Braves team is/can be. The Braves have assembled an impressive mix of skilled veterans and youngsters beginning to blossom. They have the potential (Andrew Jones contract year, if Chipper is healthy, if Hampton is healthy, if Smoltz is still Smoltz, youth develops) to be good, and in the past they could’ve slid into the wild card. But with the Phillies and Mets no longer just afterthoughts, this team doesn’t make it into the playoffs. But look out in 2008.

Prediction: 3rd, 86-76

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