The Braves hope to celebrate a division championship in 2012.
Despite their late-season collapse, the Braves should be able to rebound in 2012 and could be the favorite to win the National League.
This article shows why the Braves are expected to be better than the Philadelphia Phillies next year, and why they should finally win the NL East for the first time since 2005.
Ryan Howard's 2012 is in question.
First, I'd like to make it clear that I'd prefer to beat the Phillies at full strength, but Ryan Howard's injury is a major story. Howard's torn Achilles tendon could keep him out anywhere from six to 12 months, potentially keeping him out for the full season.
Howard isn't likely to miss the whole year, but when he does return he may not be the same player we saw this year. This could be similar to Chase Utley's situation for the Phillies' cleanup hitter.
Even if he is at full strength, Howard's numbers have declined in both 2010 and 2011. For a man about to turn 32 years old before the season, that is not good news.
He was long expected to start breaking down early due to being overweight, and it looks like the people that projected that to happen were correct.
Chase Utley's knees should be an issue going forward.
The soon-to-be 33-year-old Chase Utley is on the downside of his career a bit early due to injuries. Utley missed the first two months of this season because of chronic knee issues, something not likely to ever completely go away at his age.
When Utley was in the lineup for 103 games this year, his triple slash line was only .259/.344/.425 with 11 homers and 44 runs batted in. This is the second consecutive season where his numbers declined and that he missed more than 45 games.
Those numbers are decent for a second baseman, but hardly anything special.
Utley will be another year older in 2012, meaning his knees will have another year of wear and tear on them. Not only will he never approach his 2008 MVP numbers again, but he could be a liability at times and out of the lineup at other times.
The Phillies can't afford to lose Jimmy Rollns or Ryan Madson.
Starting shortstop and former National League MVP Jimmy Rollins isn't the Phillies only free agent to be, but he's the biggest name.
Rollins will be joined on the free agent market by closer Ryan Madson and starting left fielder Raul Ibanez.
Rollins isn't the same player that won the MVP award, but he still managed to have a strong year at the plate and with the glove. Rollins hit .266/.338/.399 with 16 homers, 63 runs batted in and 30 steals. Those numbers are strong from anyone, let alone a shortstop.
If the Phillies were to lose Rollins, they wouldn't be able to replace his production at the plate or in the field unless that went after the expensive Jose Reyes.
Reyes won't come cheap, and with the amount of teams without quality shortstops, there could be plenty of teams chasing him.
Madson's 2011 was a very strong year as he stepped up in his first look as a closer. Madson went 4-2 with a 2.37 ERA while saving 32 games in 34 chances. Madson is a key piece for a Phillies team that experimented with 39-year-old Jose Contreras and Antonio Bastardo in that role.
Ibanez may not be a big loss, especially with Domonic Brown potentially ready to take a starting spot, but he has been a started in Philly for the past three seasons.
Ibanez posted 20 homers and 84 runs batted in, so he would need to be replaced in the lineup.
Roy Halladay will be 35 years old next season.
Take a look at the Phillies roster and look how old the key pieces will be next year.
Howard, if healthy, will spend the bulk of the season at age 32. Rollins, if he returns, would be 33 years old and so will Utley. Those aren't the only guys getting up there in age, but those are the Phillies' original Big Three.
Taking a look at the rest of the lineup, catcher Carlos Ruiz will be 33, third baseman Placido Polanco will be 36, Ibanez will be 40, and even Shane Victorino will be 31. That leaves only Hunter Pence as the only regular under 30 years of age next season.
It's not as if age is only going to affect the hitters, as the pitching staff will also be getting up there in age. Roy Halladay will be 35, Roy Oswalt 34 and Cliff Lee 33. Cole Hamels and Vance Worley will each be under 30 years of age, but two of the Phillies' top three pitchers will be in an age considered past the prime for most pitchers.
The bullpen is in a little better shape as Brad Lidge, who will be 35 years old, is the only key piece well above 30. Ryan Madson will be 31, but is still obviously in his prime.
Unless the Phillies make significant changes this winter, the bulk of their roster will be on the wrong side of 30. That means that the potential to decline is always there, and some players (Howard, Utley, Rollins) have already started that downward slide.