Young pitching key to Braves' 2010 season

(2009 Stats in parentheses)

2009 Record: 86-76

Key additions: OF Melky Cabrera, 1B Troy Glaus, RP Takashi Saito, CP Billy Wagner

Key departures: OF Garret Anderson, 1B Adam LaRoche, CP Rafael Soriano

Offense: Nate McClouth came to Atlanta via Pittsburgh midway through 2009, and did an average job as the leadoff batter (68 walks, 19 steals, .352 OBP).

Behind him in the lineup is Martin Prado (pictured, top). In his first full season in the majors, Prado proved he belonged (.307 BA, .822 OPS).

Glaus will bat third, but his 2009 season was over before it began when he underwent right shoulder surgery in January. He is in the twilight of his career – one that has been cut disappointingly short – and keeping him healthy will be priority number one.

After perhaps his best season ever in 2008, Chipper Jones saw a major decline in his 2009 numbers (.264 BA, 18 HR, 71 RBI).

Defense: The outfield is slow …very slow. Matt Diaz and Melky Cabrera both have issues covering ground, but they do have solid arm strength. In the expansive outfield of Turner Field, the speed issue is a problem.

Prado seems to be the bright spot of this franchise moving forward, and all the scouts rave about his prowess at second base. He is very quick laterally with a great glove. Jones and Glaus are liabilities on the corner, however. Yuniel Escobar is a good fielder, but has an erratic arm at times that could lead to a high number of errors.

Pitching: Tim Hudson returns as the ace after elbow surgery held him out until September 2009. He pitched well in seven starts (2-1, 42.1 IP, 3.61 ERA). If he stays healthy, he should be a 15-game winner.

Behind him is Tommy Hanson (pictured), who along with Prado is the future of the organization. In his rookie season, Hanson (11-4, 2.89 ERA) threw a lot of strikes and showed an ability to get timely outs.

Jair Jurrens (14-10, 2.60 ERA) is another young pitcher with high expectations in 2010. Derek Lowe is in the declining part of his career (finally), but will still be a solid fourth starter.

In the bullpen, Billy Wagner is out to prove he is still a top-flight closer in the major leagues. He spent 2009 middling around in the Mets and Red Sox bullpens as a set-up man, and produced very little. He was brought to Atlanta to be the main man, and he looks healthy enough to be that guy.

Season Outlook: The Braves have an interesting mix of experience and youth, which makes them a hard team to peg. The additions of Glaus and Wagner could be great, or could both be busts. The Braves have one of the most promising pitching staffs in the NL with Hanson and Jurrens. The Braves’ defensive liabilities will be accounted for somewhat by strong pitching. They have enough batting top to bottom to score runs.

They won’t challenge the Phillies, but a run at the wild card is not out of the question.

2010 Prediction: 2nd place NL East


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