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Atlanta Braves

Atlanta is Still the Team to Beat in the NL East

Imagine if a team in the NFL had won their division every single year since 1990. Everybody would be talking about this team heading into the year, they would be one of the most popular teams in all of sports, and it wouldn’t even be a question if they were going to repeat once again as division champions. Why is it any different with the Braves current situation in baseball? For about the past five years now, we have been hearing heading into the MLB season about how some team would overtake the Braves in the NL East. The Phillies, the Marlins, the Mets, and even the Nationals have been predicted to beat out the venerable Braves. But why? I mean, the last time the Atlanta failed to win make the playoffs, I hadn’t even been born yet! And they look poised to win it again in ’06.

But wait! Atlanta isn’t predicted to take home the title again this year! Of course, the Mets are going to win the NL East this year. This is the team that will end the greatest streak in sports this year. I mean, the Mets have made all sorts of free-agent acquisitions to put them above the Braves. They picked up Billy Wagner, who will surely put their bullpen over the top, and Carlos Delgado, who is definitely still in his prime!

Alright, this is almost sickening. Sure, Wagner is one of the top five closers in baseball, but the rest of their bullpen is incredibly weak. What’s the point of having a great closer if there’s nobody to set him up? The Mets starting pitchers are mediocre. It’s Pedro Martinez and a bunch of Kansas City Royals-quality starters. Overall on pitching, the Mets will be lucky to finish in the top half of the NL in ERA.

 On offense, New York looks good on paper. However, there are definitely some holes in New York’s lineup. Jose Reyes can steal bases at will but his OBP is usually only .300. Paul Lo Duca is an upgrade over aging Mike Piazza but rarely hits for power, and doesn’t have enough speed to be a true threat at his projected 2 spot. The 3-4-5 hitters are also a problem for this lineup: Carlos Beltran seems to be a bust with this team, Carlos Delgado’s best years are behind him, and David Wright has yet to prove himself. Out of those three players, they’ll only get about 65-70 combined homers.

The Mets are a team that was supposed to challenge for the title last year after picking up Pedro and Carlos Beltran, and they didn’t. Why is anything different this year with them? They are just a bunch of over-the-hill players that were once stars. Will they improve? Probably. But they just can’t match the Braves’ all-around excellence.

The other teams in the NL East are nothing to write home about. The Marlins just dumped every successful player they had, which made absolutely no sense to me. Expect them to finish last. The Nationals are a pesky team, but their offense lacks any punch whatsoever. And the Phillies are perennial underachievers. This division should be a two team race between Atlanta and New York.

    How will the Braves win this two team race? The same way they always win this division: brilliant managing, a consistent offense, solid defense, great pitching, and simply their ability to win the right games at the right times.

Let’s look at their offense first. The biggest change offensively this offseason was the loss of stud leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal and the acquisition of Edgar Renteria. Though Renteria had a down year last season, look for him to rebound to his all-star capabilities in 2006. He’ll bat second in the lineup, with Marcus Giles taking the leadoff position. Many have questioned Giles’ ability to be a leadoff hitter, but I think he will do fine. Giles is consistent player who can hit for average (.292 career average), power (15 homers last year), and has an excellent on-base percentage (.366 career). Going down their projected lineup lies Chipper Jones, who has battled injuries the last few seasons but can produce from the 3 spot as well as anybody. All-Star cleanup hitter Andruw Jones led the entire major league last year with 51 homers and 128 RBIs, and look for him to continue his dominance offensively. The key players for the Braves are their youngsters: Adam LaRoache (26 years old), Jeff Francoeur (22), Ryan Langerhans (26), and catcher Brian McCann (22). If these players perform well, the Braves offense will be among the tops in the majors. The player with the most upside here is Francoeur, who almost won Rookie of the Year honors in 2005 despite not playing until after the all-star break. If Francoeur realizes his potential, look for startling numbers from him.

Now on to the pitching, which is usually among the league’s best. This year, their starters will most likely continue this excellence. Tim Hudson will be the Braves’ Opening Day starter, and he will improve in his second year with the team. His ERA will most likely be closer to his career 3.33 than last year’s 3.52. John Smoltz, the team’s #2 starter, is getting older but is still a force on the mound. Atlanta’s other starters include John Thompson, who is a consistent producer on the mound, Jorge Sosa, who saved the Braves’ rotation last year with a 2.55 ERA, and Horacio Ramirez, who is at least decent for the 5th pitcher in a rotation.

While the Braves’ starters might be among the best in the MLB, they will probably continue to have some bullpen problems in their search for a closer. Chris Reitsma will likely be their closer this year. He is inconsistent, but he has an excellent fastball and curveball that he uses predominantly. The Braves’ setup men will likely be weak this year, as the team lost flamethrower Kyle Farnsworth to the Yankees. But if the Braves can find somebody to fill these spots, this team will dominate.

All in all, the Braves are truly one of the best franchises in sports. If I had to bet on any one team in any sport that I thought would make it to the playoffs in any given year, I’d choose the Braves. They have lost so many talented players over the years, but they still remain a year-to-year force because of their coaching, consistency, and a front office that makes all the right decisions. This year, they appear to be an otherwise loaded team stuck with a mediocre bullpen. However, if there is any team that can battle through adversity, it is the Braves, who last year had to start so many rookies they were practically a AAA team. This is a team that has won 14 division titles in a row. Don’t expect that streak to end this year.

NL East predictions:

  1. Braves (97-65)
  2. Mets (89-73)
  3. Nationals (77-85)
  4. Phillies (75-87)
  5. Marlins (68-94)

5 replies on “Atlanta is Still the Team to Beat in the NL East”

Im still on the fence… I don’t know if the Braves have enough to win especially if the Mets pull through, but I agree they are STILL the team to beat in the NL East.

comment Ok, I liked the article, but I have some major problems with your analysis.

Beltran/Wright/Delgado combining for just 70 homers? I wouldn’t be surprised to see that threesome surpass 100 this season.

The Marlins’ firesale made sense because their players were at a very high trade value, and they got an amazing array of prospect talent that should develop into a great team in the years to come. They are building their team around Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera, and frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Marlins celebrating another World Series title by 2010.

Don’t take the Phillies too lightly, because their offense is going to be very strong and if they have a consistent pitching staff I think they will contend.

I think the reason the Braves have a much worse chance to win the division this year (even though I think they will win it again) is because the Mets are stronger than ever before, the Phillies will take it down to the wire, and the Braves are expecting big sophomore seasons from last year’s sensational rookies, and I don’t think they’ll get as much as they hope for.

 

The Marlins in the WS? How can you say a team that lost Juan Pierre, Carlos Delgado, Luis Castillo, Josh Beckett, AJ Burnett, and Mike Lowell among others for a bunch of no-name prospects got good trade value? This is one of the most incredible firesales in recent years. If they win a World Series within ten years, I’ll be shocked. Miguel Cabrera is good, but who is there to protect him? Mike Jacobs is thier projected cleanup hitter. The Marlins will finish last for the next few years in this division. And don’t even say that the Phillies have a shot in the world at the divison title. They have no starters and are perennial underachievers. About the Mets: David Wright is a godd up-and-comer, but Carlos Delgado has seen his last great production in this league, and Carlos Beltran was a disaster last season. There you go.

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