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Atlanta Braves Predictions / 2010 Season Preview

2010 MLB Predictions/Previews: Florida Marlins

Hard to believe, as many of us watch the snow fall outside, that the Boys of Summer are almost back. But it’s true; teams have reported to 2010 Major League Baseball training camps and it’s time to start our team-by-team baseball gambling previews for the year.

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MLB Team Preview – Atlanta Braves

Every year in baseball betting, hot sleepers pop up –teams that excite us so much that we feel like we’re stealing when we bet the over on the team’s projected win total. So far in my 2010 predictions, we haven’t touched on one of those sleepers.

Until now.

Say hello to the first “watch out” team in 2010: the Atlanta Braves.

For a good 15 years, encompassing the entire 1990s and half the 2000s, the Atlanta Braves represented the pinnacle of pitching. Glavine, Smoltz, Maddux and so on led Atlanta to countless division titles and a World Series. When the bottom finally fell out over the last few years, it was easy to see why: the arms left town. Chipper Jones was still around, Andruw was smashing 50 homers, Brian McCann was an All-Star…but the pitchers weren’t getting outs.

Now, the staff is retooled and so is Atlanta’s chances at October baseball.

Even with Javier Vazquez off to the Bronx, reinforcements have arrived. Usually effective sinkerballer Derek Lowe can’t be worse than he was last season; young Jair Jurrjens made a run at the National League ERA title; Tim Hudson is another year removed from Tommy John surgery and still has something left in the tank; most importantly, the Braves now have a full season of Tommy Hanson on tap. The flamethrowing righty was arguably the NL’s top pitching prospect entering 2009 and he lived up to the billing, going 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA. Always a strikeout machine in the minors, he learned how to miss major-league bats as the season progressed, whiffing 91 guys in 86.2 innings after the All-Star break.

Atlanta’s bullpen has a few good arms but doesn’t inspire confidence like the starters do. Sure, Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito have been lights-out stoppers in their careers, but they’re 38 and 40 years old, respectively. The grim reaper of baseball could claim them at any moment. Bobby Cox – managing his final big-league season – has to hope Peter Moylan can handle closing duties in a pinch, though his funky delivery makes him more of a specialist than a closer.

Offensively, the Braves aren’t perfect, but they have some effective bats and one huge presence on the way. The projected starting lineup offers a little bit of everything, from experienced-but-fragile power hitters (Chippers Jones, Tory Glaus) to solid hitters entering their primes (Nate McLouth, Brian McCann, Yunel Escobar) to plucky overachievers like Martin Prado.

The question on everyone’s mind is whether or not Jason Heyward, widely considered the top offensive prospect in baseball, can make the jump to the majors this season. He’s certainly making a strong case in spring training, grabbing headlines by launching balls into parking lots. It’s not a matter of “if” Heyward plays for Atlanta this year; just “when.” Don’t be surprised if he makes the Opening-Day roster. Given his solid strikeout-to-walk ratio as a minor leaguer, he could mature quickly enough to make the big club for Game 1.

The Braves aren’t quite ready to tangle with mighty Philadelphia, but they’re a talented group that should keep improving. Guys like Hanson, Escobar and obviously Heyward haven’t hit their ceilings. The Braves are probably a year or two away from seriously challenging the Phillies but bettors shouldn’t be surprised if they factor into the Wildcard mix this year.

Braves Prediction: Second, National League East

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