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MLB Predictions / Previews: Atlanta Braves

MLB Team Preview – Atlanta Braves

Atlanta used to be an MLB betting certainty to win the National League East, as it took the division 11 straight years. After three years of third and fourth-place finishes, the Braves have reloaded and are looking to challenge New York and Philadelphia in the East.

The Braves scored 770 runs last year, and they got rid of slugger Mark Teixeira late in the season, which definitely hurt their offense.Third baseman Chipper Jones and catcher Brian McCann will be back to power the Atlanta offense this year, but Jones is close to turning 37 years old, so one has wonder how long he can continue to hit at a high level. McCann is battling with Los Angeles’ Russell Martin for the status of best catcher in the National League and, at 25, his best years are ahead of him. However, there isn’t much behind these two unless RF Jeff Francoeur bounces back from his worst season as a professional. Second baseman Kelly Johnson and shortstop Yunel Escobar are entering their respective primes and, after solid campaigns in 2008, the middle-infield combo could be ready for a big year.

It’s strange to talk about the Braves’ pitching and not mention John Smoltz, but the 41-year-old headed to Boston after 20 years in an Atlanta uniform. However, Tom Glavine is back after a 4.5-year stint with the rival Mets, and he’ll be looking to end his career in the city that started it. Tim Hudson underwent Tommy John surgery last year and will likely miss most of the season. Jair Jurrjens could become the ace of the rotation now but he fell off in the second half after a strong start to the season. Derek Lowe joins the team from the Dodgers, while Javier Vasquez left the White Sox for the Braves, which gives Atlanta some experience in the rotation.

Mike Gonzalez will be counted on to be the Braves’ closer this season after returning from Tommy John surgery late last year, especially since Rafael Soriano will start the season on the disabled list. Manny Acosta and Jeff Bennett should be the set-up pitchers, but with all the health problems the Braves had in the bullpen last year, this could change by midseason.

MLB odds have the Braves at +200 to win the East, but online betting players should understand that getting back to .500 is Atlanta’s main priority after last year’s 72-90 mark. Injuries and a lack of direction were the Braves’ downfall in 2008. While the Braves should be better than last year, MLB betting players shouldn’t put too much faith in Atlanta this season.

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