Leading up to the start of the 2009 Regular Season, Diamond Hoggers will preview each of MLB’s 30 teams. Today’s team is the Atlanta Braves. Stay tuned as Diamond Hoggers will preview every team division by division until the start of the regular season.
The Braves 2008 turned disasterous due to their inept play on the road last year. They lost 55 games on the road last season (and their troubles seemed to start in Cincinnati) . One might wonder when thinking deeper if that is a possible sign that skipper Bobby Cox’s words are no longer working in the clubhouse; this is going to be a very telling year for Cox. It could be his final year — which no one is really talking about at this point.
The Braves are aligned with their usual amout of adequate talent in the lineup. Some believe that Josh Anderson will win the centerfield job and hit leadoff. Anderson is nothing special, and if he isn’t able to hold down the leadoff spot then it will probably be Kelly Johnson. The Braves have a young shortstop who should be a household name in a short time in Yunel Escobar. From there, everyone knows about Chipper Jones who had one of his finest seasons in his career last year. Chipper is always going to hit, and still probably has a few good years left at the plate. He has a decent shot at carving out a Hall of Fame career if he can be productive for a few more seasons.
Brian Mccann (pictured above) is one of the headliners in this lineup. Mccann will be a perennial All Star every season and should remain one of the finest offensive backstops in the game for the forseeable future.
From there the Braves are depending heavily on two question marks that may determine their fate offensively in 2009. Jeff Francoeur is trying to rebound from a disappointing season in 2008 that saw him get sent to the minor leagues. It was never supposed to be that way for Frenchy, so Braves fans will be paying close attention to how he opens up his 2009 campaign. He’ll most likely hit 5th and be the lynchpin in the lineup that he was always supposed to be.
The Braves lost out on a number of free agents this offseason but it wasn’t from lack of effort in attempting to sign them. The one guy they came away with was the veteran Garret Anderson. If Anderson is at his best he’ll hit 6th and be in left field on most nights. If he can’t stay healthy expect Matt Diaz to get a lot of starts out in the pasture. Anderson is a good hitter but one thing we see is possibly to many lefties in this lineup. A good lefty starter or arm out of the bullpen might be able to really isolate what they can do offensively.
The bottom of the lineup will be rounded out by Kelly Johnson and Casey Kotchman.
Atlanta’s rotation is no longer what they’re known for, but if two young upstart arms can continue progressing, they’ll be closer to getting back to that old reputation. The ace is going to be Derek Lowe by definition. They overpaid for Lowe in the offseason but he was coming off some solid years and his sinker is still devastating to hitters. He should continue to eat innings and have success in that big ballpark.
The really intriguing guy is Jair Jurrjens. Jurrjens has an electric arm and a lot of movement on his pitch arsenal. Jurrjens was the Braves most consistent starter in 2008. He completed 188 1/3 innings, and didn’t go at least five innings only three times (two of those pitched into the fifth inning). Jurrjens is a guy who could come out of nowhere and win near 20 games. There is a lot to like about this young pitcher.
The 3 starter is Javier Vazquez. Vazquez, dating back to his Montreal days as a youngster; has always been the bridesmaid and never really the bride. The ship has sailed on him being a frontline starter but teams could do a lot worse as far as a middle of the rotation starter goes. He was acquired from the White Sox.
The newcomer to the rotation should be Kenshin Kawakami. As most Asian imports are, he is an unknown commodity and relative wildcard. What you’ll get from him in the major leagues is anyone’s guess. Kawakami has an average fastball in the low 90s, exceptional cutter, and a slow curve. He compiled a 112-72 record and 3.22 ERA with 1,328 strikeouts in 11 seasons for the Chunichi Dragons. He should be the 4th starter.
The 5th starter is up in the air at press time but Tom Glavine is back on a 1-year deal with the Braves and if Glavine can’t fulfill this role then it might be Jorge Campillo. Campillo had some success last season starting for the Bravos.
The bullpen has some usual suspects, and the closer is Mike Gonzalez. Gonzalez isn’t anything special but as a lefty he is pretty valuable. The Braves also have Rafael Soriano, who should serve as the setup man and until Jay Bruce hit one to the moon off him to end a game last year, he was their closer. Pete Moylan is a situational specialist and will be back. Manny Acosta has a good young arm and should log some middle relief innings. If he can impress he might be a future closer candidate. Buddy Carlyle, Jeff Ridgway and Blaine Boyer round out this group.
Overall, the Braves are going to be a middle of the pack team in 2009. This comes from the fact they are in a tough division that will find them out-gunned on most nights. At best, Cox proves he still has it as a manager and squeezes ten more wins out of these guys then they’re really worth. That would be about 88 wins and good enough to probably have them in 2nd place in their division and making a run for the Wild Card, best case scenario.