Sunday, December 26, 2010

Braves' roster for 2011 season taking shape

I know it's winter, but I can't resist writing about a little baseball. The Atlanta Braves finished second last year in the National League Eastern Division, and the team needs to do a lot of work if it hopes to overtake the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011.

Of course, the biggest difference in the team will be Fredi Gonzalez taking over for the retired Bobby Cox as manager. Following a legend is never easy, and it will be interesting to see how patient the fans are with him.

As for the players, the biggest acquisition so far has been getting Dan Uggla from the Florida Marlins. The power-hitting second baseman hit 33 home runs and drove in 105 runs in 2010. As part of the trade, the Braves gave up Omar Infante who did a little bit of everything for Atlanta. Infante hit above .300 for most of last year and filled in admirably for Nate McLouth in center field.

Though the Braves desperately need Uggla's power, I have concerns about McLouth taking Infante's place. Apparently, he will get the first shot at winning his old position back, and he must step it up. Unexpectedly, McLouth's offensive skills went down the toilet in 2010, and he hit only .190. If he does not rebound, the line-up will have a gaping hole in it.

However, a trio of Uggla, catcher Brian McCann, and right fielder Jason Heyward should give the team some pop. Uggla's arrival means NL All-Star Martin Prado will move to left field. Sometimes moving to another position can impact a player's offense so let's hope that does not happen to Prado.

Pitching wise, the Braves have depth in the bullpen, but who the closer will be is anybody's guess at this point. Billy Wagner retired after last season, and there appears to be no clear-cut candidate at this point.

Left-hander George Sherrill and right-hander Scott Linebrink have been added, but they both smell like set-up men. My gut instinct tells me the team may take the dreaded closer-by-committee approach that always makes my stomach queasy. I get woozy just thinking about it.

The strength of the team remains the starting pitching. Anchored by Tim Hudson, the rotation should keep the Braves in most games. Mike Minor likely will get the first shot to earn the fifth starter slot. Other than that, the starters look good to go.

Philadelphia is clearly the best team in the division, but if the bullpen and offense come together, the Braves should have a good chance to compete for another trip to the playoffs.

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