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MLB Predictions: Braves Season Wins Over/Under Odds

2009 Atlanta Braves Wins Predictions – Lines & Baseball Props

Atlanta Braves (2008 Record: 72-90, 4th place in NL East, 20 GB)

America’s Team was the model of consistency between 1991 and 2005, winning 14 division titles, 4 National League pennants, and 1 World Series in that span. Anchored by dominant pitching staffs and led by the legendary Bobby Cox, the Braves were the class of the NL year after year. The tide has shifted, however, and Atlanta has been unable to punch its ticket to the post-season for three seasons running.The main reason for the team’s failure as of late is its lack of starting pitching, a staple during their record breaking run. The team’s 4.47 ERA ranked 12th in the NL last year, a position unthinkable for this franchise just a few short years ago.

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Somewhat indicative of Atlanta’s pitching woes in ’08 is the fact that only one man started more than 30 games, up-and-comer Jair Jurrjens, who also happened to be the youngest on the staff. Veteran Tim Hudson was very effective in 22 starts, winning 11 and posting a 3.17 ERA. He succumbed to injury in August and underwent Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow. Hudson is not expected to return until the second half of 2009 at the earliest. An even bigger blow was the early loss of ace John Smoltz, who only appeared in 6 games before he was shelved and eventually underwent shoulder surgery. And, as if things couldn’t get any worse, lefty Tom Glavine was awful through 13 starts before ending his own season by going on the DL for the first time in 22 years in the bigs. Left to scramble to fill three huge holes in their rotation, the Braves resorted to ineffective stopgap solutions including Charlie Morton, Chuck James, and James Parr. The bullpen was also bitten by the injury bug, with closer Mike Gonzalez missing 72 games after shoulder surgery while key reliever Rafael Soriano was also limited to just 14 appearances.

On the offensive side the Braves put together a very respectable campaign, ranking near the top of the NL in on-base percentage, batting average, and hits. Two major pieces of this puzzle were All-Star catcher Brian McCann and ageless wonder Chipper Jones, who flirted with a .400 average for a large part of the season before finishing at .364 with a .470 OBP. The lineup sorely lacked pop and speed, however, finishing toward the bottom of the league in both home runs and stolen bases.

GM Frank Wren set out this past offseason with one goal in mind, to restock his starting rotation. Displaying a type of free agent aggressiveness not seen in Atlanta in quite some time, the front office did a tremendous job of accomplishing this goal. In a market where top-tier starting pitching was a very valuable commodity, the Braves swooped in on several prime targets and managed to construct a rotation worthy of competing with the rest of the NL East. At the top of the list was the signing of Derek Lowe, a playoff-savvy veteran coming off a season where he compiled 14 wins and a 3.24 ERA over 211 innings for the Dodgers. With a career record of 126-107 and 21 postseason appearances under his belt, the 35-year old righty will lead a trio of newcomers at the top of Atlanta’s starting five. Sliding in behind Lowe is another vet, workhorse and strikeout machine Javier Vazquez, who is coming off a 3-year stint with the White Sox in which he averaged 13 wins, 209 innings pitched, and 199 K’s per season. The third new face belongs to Japanese import Kenshin Kawakami, a 33-year old right-hander who features an impressive cutter and an above-average curve to complement it. The rest of the rotation is filled out by Jurrjens and Glavine who, after playing the free agent market for a while, returned to the Braves on an incentive-laden deal. It remains to be seen if Glavine, once a symbol of Atlanta baseball, has anything left in the tank after returning from elbow surgery. Top prospect Tommy Hanson is scheduled to step in at the back of the rotation should Glavine fail to impress. Jurrjens, the baby of the group, has to be the most intriguing. After a solid rookie year, Jair has picked up right where he left off so far this Spring and is actually penciled in as the team’s #3 starter, one spot ahead of Kawamaki. He has an impressive arsenal and has shown that he can make adjustments at the big-league level. The depth of this restructured rotation is such that the loss of lifetime Brave John Smoltz to the Red Sox should not have a negative effect in the standings, although it may be noticeable from a sentimental aspect as well as in the chemistry of the clubhouse.

In the bullpen, Gonzalez is back to pitch the ninth and he is healthy. After having surgery, the Braves are counting on him to return to the dominating form he showed in 2006 with Pittsburgh. Setting him up is Rafael Soriano who, at times, can be one of the best late-inning arms in the league. Filling out the rest of the pen is Peter Moylan, Blaine Boyer, and Jorge Campillo, among others. The loss of reliable reliever Will Ohman to free agency may sting a bit, but newcomer Boone Logan and rest of these guys should do a decent job protecting leads.

The starting infield remains unchanged from the second half of last year, with the team hoping that lefty first baseman Casey Kotchman can have a breakout season in 2009. Acquired from the Angels in the Mark Teixeria deal, Casey struggled in his two months with the Braves. This is a player who almost never strikes out, and has the potential to hit for power. If he can develop some consistency this year, the rest of the lineup could benefit in a big way. Kelly Johnson returns at second, looking to continue his ascent offensively hitting while improving on his somewhat disappointing power numbers. At short is the exciting Yunel Escobar, who is entering his third year in the bigs and is hoping to translate his exceptional tools into a solid offensive season. The team is also hoping that he can improve on his glovework after committing 16 errors in 126 games in ’08. Back at the hot corner for his 17th season with Atlanta is Mr. Brave, Chipper Jones. After winning the National League batting crown despite being slowed by a hamstring strain in late July, Jones should once again put up age-defying numbers in 2009. The only red flag here is the fact that Chipper has not played more than 137 games since 2003, and he isn’t getting any younger. Behind the plate is another strong spot, with McCann slowly becoming one of the best catchers in the game on both sides of the ball. Brian calls a good game and is well-rounded at the plate, as his .523 slugging percentage in ’08 can attest to.

The outfield has undergone a transformation, with only right field looking as it did last season. Returning in right is one-time hometown hero Jeff Francoeur, who took a huge step backwards last year after driving in 100+ runs in both ’06 and ’07. Jeff’s .239 average and 71 RBIs in 599 at-bats drew the ire of the same Braves fans who couldn’t get enough of the Atlanta-born slugger just one season earlier. This could have been a case of Francoeur having a down year after bulking up too much last Winter, or it could be that the league has adjusted and he really isn’t that good. It is too soon to give up on a 25-year old that showed what Francoeur did in his first two full seasons, however, and a rebound year in ’09 is a pretty good possibility. The starting centerfield job has been given to Josh Anderson, an unproven talent with only 203 major league at-bats under his belt. The Braves are high on this speedy youngster, and believe that he can grow into a .300 hitter with 40+ stolen bases. They had better be right about his speed, because he may find himself covering a lot of ground in the outfield with the team’s new left fielder getting long in the tooth. 36-year old Garret Anderson, signed late in the offseason after the Braves failed to land Ken Griffey, Jr., takes over in left after playing all 15 seasons of his career with the Angels. The 3-time All-Star has seen his power tail off over the past few years, but still compiled .297 and .293 batting averages in ’07 and ’08 respectively.

The vast overhaul of the starting rotation has once again made the Braves a competitive team in 2009, at least on paper. Playing in a division that boasts the reigning champs, a Mets team that shored up its main weakness in the bullpen, and a Florida club with a bevy of hard-throwers, Atlanta is going to be up against some tough competition. However, I think that they are up to the task. They will probably fall short of taking the East, but have enough talent to keep things interesting down the stretch. I can easily see a 13 game improvement upon 2008’s 72-90 record. Look for the Braves to finish with 85 wins in 2009.

2009 Atlanta Braves Wins Prediction

Betus.com Updated Over/Under Odds: Over/Under 83 1/2 Wins (-115/-115)

Scott’s Prediction: 85 Wins

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Comments

Comments

  1. The Braves will be better in 2009, but I’m taking the under on 83 wins. This division will be too tough for the Braves to stay in the race. I see the Mets, Philiies, then Marlins rounding out the top three.

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