2011 Atlanta Braves Season Preview

Photos - Atlanta Braves vs. Washington Nationals - April 3rd

At the time of this writing, on the eve of the 2011 season, the season is beginning to come into focus for the Atlanta Braves.  A strong lineup and the best starting rotation outside of Philadelphia seems to point to a return to the playoffs, but will it be enough to overcome the vaunted rotation of the Phillies?

Starting Pitching

Anchored by the veterans Derrick Lowe and Tim Hudson – who showed forms of returning to dominance in September and who was in Cy Young consideration in 2010, respectively – the Braves have one of the top rotations in the NL outside of the Phantastic Phour and San Francisco.  While both of those teams possess higher caliber front line starters, Atlanta loses very little from starters 1 through 5.  A question remains regarding Jair Jurrgens’ ability to pitch to begin the season following an injury from spring training. If he is unable to go, Mike Minor will most likely be called up to start (and he was) – a solid replacement.  Kris Medlen should also return from injury late in the season, adding to the coming log jam of pitching in Atlanta.

Offense

The addition of Dan Uggla to Prado, Chipper, McCann, and Heyward finally gives the lineup the right-handed power bat that it has needed for some time.  ESPN the Magazine calls this “the deepest lineup in the league,” and is definitely the strongest in the NL East.  While not the most exciting lineup in baseball, it certainly has a solid feel.  Much of the success of this offense will depend on their ability to stay healthy and for CF McLouth to return to his All-Star form.  At the risk of sounding clichéd: If the top of the lineup can get on base  as they should, then McCann, Uggla, and Heyward should have plenty of opportunities to drive in runs.  The Braves gave the eventual World Champion Giants a run for their money last year in the playoffs without Chipper Jones, Martin Prado, or Dan Uggla.  Oh, and that’s also with Nate “Below the Mendoza Line” McLouth and Melky “Huh?” Cabrera patrolling center… *Shudder*.

Reserves and Bullpen

The Braves led the majors last year in final at bat wins with 25, which speaks to the depth of the team and their ability to stay in games via their bullpen.  The loss of super-utility man Omar Infante certainly hurts Atlanta’s All-Star presence flexibility, but the addition of journeyman Matt Young should provide more pop off of the bench.  Brandon Hicks provides some much needed speed, and also carries the odd distinction of scoring more runs than plate appearances.

The bullpen also projects to be a strength for the Braves.  Gone are Dunn, Saito, Farnsworth and Wagner, but full seasons of “Everyday”-Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel and the addition of George Sherrill and Scott Linebrink should be enough to keep the Braves in games late.

Opening Day Roster

Infielders (6): Brooks Conrad, Brandon Hicks, Freddie Freeman, Alex Gonzalez, Chipper Jones, Dan Uggla

Outfielders (5): Jason Heyward, Eric Hinske, Nate McLouth, Martin Prado, Matt Young

Catchers (2): Brian McCann, David Ross

Pitchers (12): Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy, Jair Jurrjens, Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Peter Moylan, Eric O’Flaherty, George Sherrill, Scott Linebrink, Cristhian Martinez

 

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