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2006 Atlanta Braves Baseball Preview

Atlanta Braves Predictions – NL EAST

OVERVIEW:

The Braves are trying for their 15th straight division title this season and will most likely get it. They possess a group of talented young guys along with a cadre of vets who are in their prime. They have every reason to finish first—again.


PITCHING:

John Smoltz (14-7, 3.09 ERA) moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation last year without missing a beat or a pitch. His splitter targets at 91 mph, while his fastball reaches up to 98 mph.

Second man in the rotation, Tim Hudson (14-9, 3.52 ERA), had some health issues in 2005 but managed to come back. The other starters—Jorge Sosa, John Thomson, and Horacio Ramirez—round out a very fine pitching staff.

Closer Chris Reitsma (15 SV, 3.93 ERA), a former starter, is still learning the ninth inning job; last season he was uneven but so was the entire bullpen/closer situation. If the Braves make him the guy, he should develop into a fastball-changeup artist with a curveball thrown in for texture.

Statistically, the sixth best pitching staff in the NL last season but one of the best all-around group of throwers in the game.

HITTING:

Andruw Jones has developed into one of the finest long-ball guys in the league, knocking out 51 last season while driving in a total of 128 runs. He’ll be trying to be more consistent and raise that .263 BA while lowering that 112 SO total.

Chipper Jones has aged but the guy can still hit. Last season he contributed with a .296 BA and 21 homers. Although he’s had physical problems, he’s still a batsman with which pitchers have to contend.

Young guy, Jeff Francoeur (.300 BA, 14 HR) hits the ball with authority, using the entire field to generate offense.

Adam LaRoche (.259 BA, 20 HR) is developing his power swing and more output should be forthcoming in 2006, while Marcus Giles (.291 BA, 15 HR) would be an even better lead off man if he walked more (64 BB) and struck out less (108 SO).

DEFENSE:

Andruw Jones is a one-man wrecking crew in center, tracking down potential extra base hits and making the fantastic look effortless. With Jeff Francoeur in right and Ryan Langerhause in left, Atlanta has a well-rounded and young outfield.

The infield is also very good, with hobbled third baseman Chipper Jones using more smarts than athleticism to make the tough plays and first bagger Adam LaRoche utilizing his range and instincts.

The middle infield is a bit more questionable. Marcus Giles at second has some problems going to his right, although he does turn a mean double play. Edgar Renteria, who was with the Red Sox one year, had a dismal defensive 2005, making 30 errors while compiling a fielding grade of .954 (one of the worst for starting shortstops). It was uncharacteristic of him and the Braves are hoping he’s back in form this season.

This team was the best fielding club in the majors last year. That says it all.

MANAGER AND FRONT OFFICE:

• Bobby Cox is still calmly at the helm—need we say more?
• GM Schuerholz is one of the best and works exceptionally well with Cox.
• Expert pitching coach Leo Mazzone has gone to Baltimore—will his exit mean a decline in that area?

INTANGIBLES AND/OR OTHER STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES:

• GM Schuerholz and Manager Cox—used 18 rookies, had bullpen dilemmas, and were rebuilding the team and still won their division last year. Scary!
• SS Rafael Furcal took his great fielding (.981 FP, 15 E), speed (46 SB) and extra base hits (31 2B, 11 3B and 12 HR) to the Dodgers. Can Renteria even come close to filling that gap?
• Careful spending during the hot stove season means the club is well positioned to pick up a key player during the All-Star break.

CONCLUSION:

Bobby Cox has 2,092 wins and is still counting. By the end of the 2006 season, he should be hovering around 2,184. This franchise is expertly run from the top on down and is adept at developing new talent and getting the most out of their veteran players.

Maddux Sports is an expert baseball handicapper, visit us for baseball picks, baseball betting info, and all the sports handicapping knowledge to make you a winner in 2006.

For more information on the 2006 Atlanta Braves visit their official MLB website by clicking here.

 

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