The Braves are reporting to Spring Training on Friday, and hopes will be high at camp after an off-season full of moves.
With a strong starting rotation, and a revamped offense and bullpen, the Braves think that 2010 will be the year that they return to the post-season.
Here are five bold predictions for the 2010 Braves that might not be sure things but would bode well for the Braves organization if they come to pass.
With the signing of Hudson, the Braves front office essentially announced that he was more valuable than Javier Vazquez and/or Derek Lowe in the long run. While the Braves probably thought they could deal Lowe, when they made this move they had to know there was a chance that Vazquez wouldn’t be around in 2010.
In his seasons with the Braves, Hudson has an ERA+ of 114, while he was at 135 in his six seasons in Oakland.
In 2010, I think Hudson will be back above the 130 mark.
Between 2007 and 2008, Hudson was fantastic in Atlanta, pitching like a true ace. While his overall numbers in Atlanta aren’t quite ace-caliber, I expect Hudson to pitch less like his first couple years in Atlanta—where he had a higher BB/9 and HR/9 rate than other seasons—and more like the dominant ace we saw in while he was in the Bay Area.
In fact, I think that Hudson very may well put up the best numbers on the Braves' staff, pitching his way into the Cy Young race and making us forget about Vazquez.
This really comes down the whether or not Glaus can stay healthy because as long as he plays 140 games, I can see Glaus smashing 30 homeruns in Atlanta.
While Turner Field is a pitchers' park, players actually hit more homeruns at Turner than they do in St. Louis.
The difference in ballpark, combined with a clean bill of health leads me to believe that Glaus will come back and improve on his power numbers from 2008, although his batting average will likely drop.
While those familiar with Heyward's abilities may not see this as a particularly bold pick, I think it is extremely difficult to predict who wins the Rookie of the Year Award. If you don’t agree and nailed it in 2009 with Chris Coglan, feel free to tell me I’m wrong.
Assuming Heyward plays for a full season, most experts forecast that Heyward’s stat-line will end up somewhere around .270/15/70.
I see Heyward coming out and posting numbers that jump off the page almost as much as Tommy Hanson’s did. In a full season, I see Heyward hitting around .300 with 20 homeruns and 80+ RBI.
And with those numbers, I see Heyward claiming the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2010, the way Hanson should have in 2009.
The Braves are short on pitching depth, and already faced a preseason scare with Jair Jurrjens shoulder discomfort.
Should any starter miss significant time, Kris Medlen or Jo-Jo Reyes will be the likely replacement.
With the signing of Johnny Damon likely falling through, the Braves may have some extra money heading into the season.
It looks like Smoltz could be available after the season starts and that he may end up doing something like Pedro Martinez last year, and choose not to make any starts until about half-way through the season.
Although his overall numbers weren’t great last year, Smoltz did post impressive K/9 (8.4) and K/BB (4.06) ratios, so he may still has something left in the tank.
If the Braves need the starter come June or July, they could try to mend ties with Smoltz, who could provide value in the rotation or bullpen coming down the stretch.
Is it a long shot, yes. But it could happen.
A run at the NL East crown is possible, but the Braves best shot at the post-season is likely the Wild Card.
In the 1990s the Braves built championship-caliber teams with dominant pitching, which is exactly what they have this year.
If Tim Hudson can regain his ace form and Derek Lowe pitches more like he did with the Dodgers, the Braves will have two great veteran pitchers.
Throw in the young guns, Jurrjens and Hanson, and the Braves might have the best foursome in baseball, and that’s what matters in the postseason.
Continuing with the pitching staff, the bullpen could be dominant if its key members can stay healthy. Billy Wagner is one of the most dominant closers in MLB history, and Moylan, O’Flaherty, and Saito should all be capable of handling the seventh and eighth innings.
As long as the lineup can provide clutch hitting, the Braves are poised to make a run deep into the playoffs with their dominant pitching staff that should be able to keep opposing offenses in check every night.
If everything falls into place, the Braves could be hoisting the World Series trophy, and sending longtime skipper Bobby Cox out on top of the baseball world, come November.