Leading up to the start of the 2008 Regular Season, Diamond Hoggers will preview each of MLB’s 32 teams. Teams will be rated on a 10-point scale in the following 5 areas: Lineup, Pitching, Manager, Intangibles/Chemistry, and Overall. Today’s team is the Atlanta Braves
Diamond Hogger’s Atlanta Braves Blog of Choice: Talkin’ Chop & Braves Report
Kelly Johnson will be the 2nd baseman and hit lead off by default. This comes after struggling in left field during parts of last season. He’s a candidate to have a break-out year as is the 2nd hitter in the lineup Yunel Escobar. Escobar hit .326 part-time last season filling in for the injured Edgar Renteria. Based on his short term audition and the fact he produced well in the minor leagues, he made Renteria expendable. The Braves are very high on this young man’s talents.
Spots 3-6 in this lineup can really hurt people, and they’re not getting nearly the respect they deserve in talks around league circles. Mark Teixeira is going to have a big time year, and he’s been mentioned as a preseason MVP candidate on several publications I’ve seen thus far. He’s got all the capabilities to do things like hit .300, 35+ HR, and drive in over 100. He’s in a contract year so he’s got a chance to break the bank if he does well. I’d bet that he succeeds this year. Batting clean-up is going to be the 3rd baseman and face of the franchise Chipper Jones. Jones is having what could finish up as a Hall of Fame career. Batting 5th and in right field is mega-athlete Jeff Francoeur. He strikes out a lot but not without a lot of thunder in his bat. Batting 6th might be the finest hitting catcher in the big leagues over the stretch of the next several seasons, Brian McCann.
Matt Diaz will play left field and be towards the bottom of the lineup. Mark Kotsay is newly acquired and will play center field. He’s experienced somewhat in hitting leadoff but has never really produced above and beyond in any of his previous stops.
The bench’s most important names to know are Omar Infante, a utility man; and Josh Anderson, the team’s 4th outfielder. Neither are threats to do anything big at the plate but are solid reserves.
This has long been what this franchise has been built around. The Braves have grabbed some veterans that are closing their careers out to try and tap into a fountain of youth, or so they hope.
John Smoltz is the ace and he still appears absolutely dominant often enough. Smoltz’s stuff hasn’t dimmed much, but he has begun to break down a bit, missing time last season due to injury. Still, he’s a quality staff ace and one who will serve as a stopper when needed. After Smoltz, the Braves have brought back Tom Glavine to finish his career as an Atlanta Brave. Glavine can still eat innings and get hitters out with street smarts and guile, but I question his effectiveness at this point. He’s been able to avoid injuries with his age climbing, but that could be another concern. He’s probably not much better than a #4 or #5 starter but he’ll be asked to be a #2. That is not a good thing if you’re asking me.
The third starter should be their biggest weapon from a starting pitching standpoint. Tim Hudson remains a potential top of the rotation starter and will likely rise to the role of staff ace once Smoltz finally retires. Though Hudson should be the Number two man at the very least, expect the Braves to separate him and Smoltz (both RHP) with Glavine.
For their #4 and #5 options, the Braves will turn to Chuck James and veteran Mike Hampton. Hampton was once an ace in all of the league who was derailed by injuries but he’s looked impressive this spring. James is suitable at best, and probably should be a long-reliever. I wouldn’t expect either of these guys to get 13 or more wins.
The Braves closer is Rafael Soriano. The Braves picked him up after years in Seattle as an under-utilized reliever. Soriano has electric stuff and a herky-jerky delivery. He could be a candidate to be the next dominant closer in all of baseball. He’ll be set up by the Pirates former closer Mike Gonzalez, who figures to be a second option should something happen to Soriano. Buddy Carlysle, Royce Ring, Manny Acosta, and lefty-specialist Will Ohman will be the other figures who log prominent innings in Atlanta’s bullpen.
I’m not sold on their starting rotation. They’ll need a prospect to rise out of nowhere to be a playoff team I would think. For the first time in a long time, the pitching staff may hold this franchise back.
Bobby Cox is as fine of a big league manager as there ever will be in baseball again. He has a career 2,255-1,764 record for a .561 winning percentage. He’s won 14 divisional titles in Atlanta, including 11 in a row. He’s the Lenny Wilkens of baseball managers at this point. A wins machine. He’s won over 100 games five times, last in 2003. He’s won a World Series Championship only once, if there is any black eye after all the statistics. He hasn’t won 90 games since 2005, which some critics of Cox will say he’s showing signs of slowing down as a skipper.
Cox will be 67 in May, and there’s no telling of how much longer he will manage. He’s seen every situation 100 times in terms of in-game managerial situations. His reputation and what he adds to a ball club that buys into him are not measurable at this point. Cox will have this group ready to play and ready to play hard for 27 outs for all 162 games and beyond if needed.
Noted for his quick temper, Cox isn’t afraid to argue a call to benefit his team later in a game and knows how to work not just a single umpire but many times an entire crew. Cox has been ejected more than any manager in the history of baseball.
Doesn’t it seem that even going back to the days of Jeff Blauser, Jeff Treadway, and Damon Berryhill; the Atlanta Braves assemble a group of players that quietly play well together and handle things in-house rather than airing it to the media or public? I think the stability goes all the way to the top with Cox and GM John Schuerholz and that reflects with the on-field product. The Braves always have chemistry but do not always have the talent.
This team isn’t assembled with heavyweight prize fighters but they could be dangerous enough that the fact they’ll play well as a group will be a factor in allowing them to compete.
They play in a park that is middle of the road as far as hitters go. It supports a strong pitching staff but guys have had prolific offensive seasons before at Turner Field.
I think this team is underestimated but only to a point. They aren’t as good as the Phillies or Mets. They can hang on for a while in the NL East division but at some point sheer talent will override veteran guile and managerial experience. It always does. I see this team as a 3rd place finish and that’s being objective.