New Look is the right term for the Atlanta Braves this year. While most of the key players are still the same (Brain McCann, Jeff Francoeur, Chipper Jones, Kelly Johnson), evolution might be the best way to describe what most fans will see at Turner Field over the next six months.
The starting lineup? Don't expect the batting order to stay the same for long. With Jordan Schafer making the Braves look smart for putting him in center field and trading Josh Anderson to the Tigers, don't expect him to be in that eighth spot in the lineup come mid-May. With his speed, he'll be leading off for the Braves before too long.
Against lefties? Expect to see the bench players getting a lot of playing time. With Yunel Escobar and Francoeur the only right-handed hitting regulars in the starting lineup, a lefty starter will bring a bunch of changes. Omar Infante in center field. Matt Diaz in left. Martin Prado at either first or second base. David Ross catching.
This starting rotation? Totally different than last year. This coming September, at least one of the present starting five won't be in the rotation. Glavine's 43, and Jo-Jo Reyes looked ready. But Tommy Hanson is the ace-in-waiting and will be up with the Braves this year.
And don't forget about who's on the disabled list right now—the true ace, Tim Hudson.
Someone will likely have to forfeit his slot in the rotation come September unless manager Bobby Cox decides to go with a six- or seven-man rotation in the season's last month. The Braves have five good starters now, one in the bullpen, three at AAA Gwinnett and an ace on the 60-day DL. Either that or we might see Javier Vazquez traded at the deadline.
The only thing that won't change for the Braves is Jones. He'll still miss 20+ games this year, hit over .300 and be the consistent force Atlanta fans have seen in the middle of the Brave lineup since 1995.
I vividly remember the Braves lineup six years ago in 2003—the team that belted 235 homers as a team, won 101 games, had five starters in double figures in wins.
Rafael Furcal, Marcus Giles, Gary Sheffeld.
Chipper, Andruw Jones, Javy Lopez.
Robert Fick or Julio Franco, then Vinny Castilla.
Every Brave regular had double-digit home runs that season with Fick having the fewest (11 I think) and Lopez leading the team with 43 and setting the record for catchers.
The 2009 team won't hit 235 homers. Or more than 200. They won't win 101 games and cruise to a division title. But, I think that the eight Braves regular-position players will all hit at least 10 home runs. Chipper, McCann, and Francoeur will hit about 25 apiece. Garret Anderson, Casey Kotchman, Johnson, and Escobar will hit 12-15 each and Schafer will get his 10.
It's not that much of a stretch. Every one of those players with the exception of Francouer hit about that number of home runs last year—even Schafer in his half-season at AA Mississippi.
Francouer hit only two home runs in the second half last year, so based on his track record, hitting 20+ is not out of the question. Sure, Braves fans would love 30, and it might happen. But I'm not counting on that much of a comeback for Frenchy.
Given the evolution of this team, which will surely continue with the arrivals later this year or next year of Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Tommy Hanson (just to name a few), if the Braves can somehow sneak in to the National League playoffs as the wild card, they could be really dangerous in the postseason.
Evolution. It's real and it's happening right now before your eyes at Turner Field.