This will begin my 2010 MLB preview. I intend to touch every team in the major leagues in installments by division. The lineups I provide will be what I predict will be the most productive for each team for the MAJORITY of the season (e.g., Jason Heyward will be listed as the Braves RF even though he may not begin the season as the starter).
I will also provide the stereotypical letter grade to each team's lineup, rotation, bullpen, and depth/bench. Though it is trite, I think all baseball fans can identify with the letter grade system.
Teams will be addressed respective to their predicted finish in their division.
2. Atlanta Braves
Nate McLouth - CF
Yunel Escobar - SS
Chipper Jones -3B
Troy Glaus - 1B
Brian McCann - C
Jason Heyward - RF
Martin Prado - 2B
Matt Diaz/Melky Cabrera - LF
OUTFIELD: The outfield has plenty of depth. Cabrera can play everywhere and switch hits. Diaz is a blue-collar effort guy who rakes lefties. Heyward is a phenom. McLouth is a great defender and balanced offensively.
INFIELD: Escobar is a talented all-around shortstop. Prado willed his way into the starting lineup. In fact, he was so convincing, the Braves felt confident enough to allow former starter Kelly Johnson head West to Arizona.
Glaus has shoulder concerns after surgery, but he's been healthy all off season and his natural grace at 3B during his career should translate well in his move to 1B. Chipper needs to bounce back, and with a tweak to his swing and the right-handed power (Glaus) behind him in the order, that should happen.
CATCHING: McCann is a perennial all-star and silver slugger. He calls a great game and seemingly never slumps at the plate. David Ross is a fine back up defensively and hits for power at the dish.
Derek Lowe - R
Jair Jurrjens - R
Tommy Hanson - R
Tim Hudson - R
Kenshin Kawakami - R
The Braves have perhaps the best rotation in the National League. Their front four starters could all be aces. That is exactly what the Braves and Bobby Cox rode to their string of consecutive division titles.
The only concern is that the entire rotation is right-handed, and playing against the left-handed studs of the Phillies puts them at a bit of a disadvantage.
Fortunately, Lowe and Hudson are both sinker-ballers, which helps to fight against what Utley and Howard do best for the Phils–hit long balls. If an injury were to occur to a starter, don't be surprised if the Braves spend a little money to bring back John Smoltz until the injury is over. Smoltz could then move to the bullpen, which is a role he says he is open to.
Typically, when a team loses it's 8th and 9th inning guys in the off season, the bullpen is certain to suffer. Not the case with the Braves.
Frank Wren scooped up Billy Wagner before anybody else could, then added Takashi Saito (who can also close games) to fill the other late-inning void. Peter Moylan is back after a franchise record 87 appearances last season where he posted a sub-3.00 ERA. Eric O'Flaherty is the lefty specialist, while Kris Medlen and Manny Acosta provide depth.
Eric Hinske is a huge help. The former Rookie of the Year can play all the corner spots on the diamond. Omar Infante is a super utility man and a Bobby Cox favorite. The outfield has plenty of guys who could start most places.
On the infield the odd man out will be either Brooks Conrad or Diory Hernandez. My guess is that Conrad will be retained because he could be a switch-hitting pinch hitter and he's another effort guy like Diaz, which Cox loves. Furthermore, Hernandez is younger with more options.
THOUGHTS: The NL East is probably the best division in the National League. It isn't a far cry to say that every team is improved from a year ago.
The Braves want to send their future hall-of-fame skipper out on a winning note, and will play inspired baseball all year. They have the talent and depth to win the division if Philadelphia falters.
The only reason I see the Braves finishing second to the Phils is because Philly added perhaps the best RHP in the game in Roy Halladay and their offense matches up well against the Braves' righty-only rotation.