The Braves finally returned to the playoffs in Bobby Cox’s last season with the team, winning the Wild Card before dropping a thrilling series to the eventual world champion San Francisco Giants. The Braves return the majority of that roster in 2011, and look primed to make another run at the playoffs.
The rotation should be solid, with Tim Hudson back on track after an impressive 2010. Tommy Hanson is steadily becoming one of the better pitchers in the NL and Derek Lowe has assumed his role as a reliable innings eater. The back end of the rotation will be filled with talented, but largely inexperienced hurlers such as Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, and possibly even highly touted prospect Julio Teheran at some point in the year.
The lineup should be improved with the acquisition of slugger Dan Uggla and rookie Freddie Freeman is expected to be an offensive threat as well in his first full season at first base. Jason Heyward returns off of his outstanding rookie year and will look build upon his success. The one true question mark in the lineup will come in center field where the Braves are hoping Nate McLouth can regain the playing form that garnered him an all-star selection in 2008. The bullpen could be an area to keep an eye on as the closer and setup roles are being handed to Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters, two talented but still very young relievers.
If the offense produces as expected and the rotation can remain reliable there is no reason the Braves shouldn’t be in the race for a playoff spot. The division race will be tough with the Phillies’ incredibly loaded rotation, but the Braves may be the only team in the division capable of competing with them.
Key Additions: Dan Uggla, Scott Linebrink, George Sherrill
Key Losses: Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito, Omar Infante, Troy Glaus, Derrek Lee
C: Brian McCann
1B: Freddie Freeman
2B: Dan Uggla
3B: Chipper Jones
SS: Alex Gonzalez
LF: Martin Prado
CF: Nate McLouth
RF: Jason Heyward
1: Tim Hudson
2: Tommy Hanson
3: Jair Jurrjens
4: Derek Lowe
5: Mike Minor
CL: Craig Kimbrel
Critical Players to Success:
Chipper Jones: Jones is coming off a serious knee injury and has struggled mightily with durability issues over the past several years. When healthy, Jones is still a very productive hitter, and the Braves would benefit greatly from his presence in the middle of their lineup.
Craig Kimbrel: Kimbrel has some big shoes to fill, taking over for storied closer Billy Wagner. The talent is there, but it remains to be seen if Kimbrel can handle the pressure of being an everyday closer in the major leagues.
Jair Jurrjens: Jurrjens had a rough 2010, regressing on his impressive numbers from his first two years and suffering a season ending injury just before the start of the playoffs. The Braves are hoping Jurrjens can return and be the kind of pitcher he was before his injury plagued 2010 campaign so they aren’t forced to turn to a younger, less experienced arm.