Thursday, May 27, 2010

I'm starting to like the Atlanta Braves chances

Since I have been a lifelong Atlanta Braves fan, it is difficult for me to be objective when writing about their chances this season. Still, the more I watch the team, the more I like their chances to make the playoffs.

The Philadelphia Phillies remain the team to beat in the National League Eastern Division. However, the Braves are emerging as a team deep with talent that can beat an opponent with its hitting or pitching.

The big story this year is the emergence of rookie Jason Heyward. He has given the Braves some much needed power from the right field position. He is hitting .290 with nine home runs at this point. It remains to be seen whether he can keep this pace up. As the Braves make their way through the league a second time, it will interesting to see if teams have found holes in his swing. If they have, then Heyward will have to make adjustments, and for young players, that can often be difficult.

The Braves also have dependable bats with Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, and Martin Prado. If everyone can remain healthy (which has been a problem for Jones as he has gotten older), the team should consistently produce runs.

Starting pitching remains a strength. Tim Hudson continues his strong return from arm problems that cost him most of last season. Currently he has five wins with an ERA just over two runs. Tommy Hanson continues to mature, and his long-term prospects remain excellent. Derek Lowe has six wins, but he has struggled with an ERA around five runs per game for most of the year. Given his track record, he should rebound and produce 13-15 wins this year.

As for the bullpen, Billy Wagner has been good as the closer. As his career has advanced, he has had arm troubles. He says this will be his last season. If he remains healthy, he could be the best closer the Braves have had in 20 years. If not, then the bullpen could become the team's weakness.

Obviously, it is early in the season. The Braves are 24-22 (as of this posting), but when a person considers that they had a nine-game losing streak early on, the overall record becomes a little more impressive.

I am looking forward to the summer.

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