In 2007, the Atlanta Braves finished 84-78, third in the NL East five games behind division champion Philadelphia Phillies.
The 2008 version of the Atlanta Braves is one of the best in years. The Braves will contend this season thanks to numerous reasons.
Let's get started by talking about the starting rotation. This year's rotation is Tim Hudson, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Mike Hampton, and Jair Jurrjens. This rotation is solid one through five and can compete with any rotation in the league. Hudson is a proven stud who I predict will win 18 games this season. Smoltz is aging, but still has enough in the tank to bring in at least 15 wins. Tom Glavine returns to Atlanta after a few years absense. Glavine is also aging, but he still has his nasty change-up. Mike Hampton is the key to this Braves rotation. After a two and a half year absence Hampton returned to form this spring and looks to have a solid 2008 campaign. Jair Jurrjens is a youngster who the Braves acquired in the Edgar Renteria trade with the Detroit Tigers. Jurrjens is said to have some of the nastiest "stuff" on the club if he can just control it. The Braves also have plenty of arms that can fill in the rotation if needed in JoJo Reyes, Jeff Bennett, Buddy Carlyle, and Anthony Lerew who all saw time in the rotation last year. The Braves are also waiting the return of last years #3 starter, Chuck James, who is on the DL recovering from a rotator cuff injury.
The Atlanta bullpen imploded in both 2006 and 2007. In 2008, the Braves have sured up the bullpen. This year's closer will be Rafael Soriano; he inherited the closer role after the Bob Wickman fiasco last season and looked really sharp. Joining Soriano in the bullpen is Pete Moylan, the man from Down Under who throws from down under. Moylan will be the 8th inning guy this season. Blaine Boyer also makes a return to the Braves bullpen after injuries and ineffectiveness kept him out last season. Atlanta also hopes to get Mike Gonzales back at mid-season, who will really bolster the bullpen. One pitcher in the bullpen I really like is Manny Acosta. Acosta saw some time in the majors last season, and he looked really good. The Braves have four or five guys they can bring in throwing straight gas in the mid to high 90's.
The Braves have one of the best catchers in the League in Brian McCann. McCann is a 2 time All-Star who is a big time hitter. He had ankle surgery this past off-seaon, and appears to show no ill-effects.
At first base the Braves have last season's big acquisition Mark Teixeira. In his first full season in Atlanta, I expect Teixeira to hit over .300 with at least 30 HR's and at least 100 RBI's.
At second base this year will be Kelly Johnson. He put up solid numbers last season and expects to be even better this year now that he has had a whole year at second under his belt.
Yunel Escobar will be a first-time starter at shortstop this season. Escobar impressed so much last year that the Braves traded away All-Star Edgar Renteria so that Escobar would have somewhere to play. Yunel is a solid hitter who makes contact all the time. I expect him to hit around 15 HR's and to steal around 15 bases.
Chipper Jones is at third base for the Braves. Chipper is one of the best players in the League and looks to lead this year's Braves team to the World Series. Chipper will be back in third spot in the order this season. I expect Chipper to hit .320 with 30 HR's and 100 RBI's.
In left-field the Braves will have Matt Diaz. Diaz is finally getting his chance to be an everyday player this season. He swings a solid stick and I expect him to hit .270 with around 20 HR's.
Replacing Andruw Jones in center-field this season is Mark Kotsay. When Jones signed with the Dodgers in the off-season, the Braves went out and traded for Kotsay to replace him. Kotsay does not have the glove that Jones had, but nobody does. Kotsay has had injury problems in the past. If Kotsay is injured, they have a plethora of options in Gregor Blanco, Josh Anderson, Brent Lillibridge, and many more.
In right-field the Braves have the "Golden Boy", Jeff Francoeur. Francoeur has one of the best arms in the League and shows it every year by being in the top of the outfield assists category. Francoeur is a free swinger who can really rake. I expect Francoeur to have a breakout season and hit at least 35 bombs this season.
The Braves are managed by Bobby Cox. Cox is one of the best managers in the League. He is well liked and respected by players.
In my opinion, the Atlanta Braves will be one of the best teams in the MLB this season. The Braves have a formidable rotation that can shut a team down one through five. The Braves lineup is scary with all of the big time hitters they can put up there. I predict the Braves to win the NL East, the NL Title, and the World Series this year.
The Atlanta Braves start their run to the World Series on Sunday, March 30 at 8:00 on ESPN against the Washington Nationals in the opening game of the season. Play Ball!