Atlanta Braves: Silent but Deadly

Matt FanningCorrespondent IFebruary 22, 2008

It's that time again.  Time to look back on the offseason to find the winners and losers.  Time to fly down to Florida for spring training.  Above all, it's time for playoff predictions.

After the Mets' historic collapse at the end of last season, the Phillies stood victorious in the NL East.  And Jimmy Rollins looked like a genius after saying the Phillies were the team to beat before the season started.

In reality, Rollins was wrong.  The Phillies weren't the team to beat; the Mets were.  And they were beaten. 

But as we get ready for the new season, the usually quiet Carlos Beltran was the first to kick off the conversation. 

“Let me tell you this: Without Santana, we felt as a team that we have a chance to win in our division. With him now, I have no doubt that we’re going to win in our division,” Beltran said. “So this year, to Jimmy Rollins—we are the team to beat!”

I never knew you could get so cocky about winning by adding a guy that went 15-13 last season.  A pitcher with a high PAP (Pitcher Abuse Points) among active pitchers, no less. 

Once Rollins reported to Phillies camp, he made sure to put his two cents into the conversation.  “There isn’t a team in this division or the National League that’s better than us,” Rollins said. “After 162 games, we’ll be looking to win the next 11.”

Pretty confident for a guy whose team got swept in the first round of the playoffs last season.   

It looks as if everyone has forgotten the team that had won 14 straight division titles just three seasons ago.  But after two third place finishes in the NL East the Atlanta Braves will surprise more than a few MLB analysts.

With the addition of Tom Glavine, the Braves' starting rotation looks the best its been since the Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz era.  With Hudson, Smoltz, and Glavine sitting comfortably at the top, former 20-game winner Mike Hampton finally healthy, and a bunch of youngsters to choose from for the final spot, the rotation looks deceptively dangerous.

The Braves have the best power-hitting, switch-hitting combination in baseball with Chipper Jones and Mark Teixeira.  Pitchers won't be able to pitch around Chipper to get to a guy that bats .222.  If they do pitch around him, they will be looking at a guy that averages about .300, 30 homers, and 100 RBIs. 

Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann will both be looking to come of age this season.  Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar are two youngsters that could have breakout seasons hitting in this lineup.

When asked about the chatter between the Mets and Phils, Chipper responded, "It really doesn’t bother me.  They are the last two division champions. They can talk all they want. We did it for 14 straight years. We know what it takes.

“The core of guys is still here. We’ve just got to get these young guys used to having that killer instinct and getting back on top of the NL East to stay again.”

With their rotation, lineup, and a manager that is addicted to winning, the Braves might be destined for success this season, whether the Mets and Phils know it or not.