After 13 straight division titles the Braves have earned the respect of being the favorites. As in past seasons, pitching is the team's strength, with John Smoltz's successful return to the rotation after three years of closing being the biggest key to the season.
Worth Every Penny
The right-handed member of the A's "Big Three," Tim Hudson is primed for a fantastic season. A native of Columbus, Ga., and Auburn alum, the slender Hudson brings his filthy stuff back to the South. Under the tuteledge of Leo Mazzone, Hudson can only get better, which is a scary thought for a pitcher who boasts a 92-39 career record. It would be an upset if Hudson doesn't flirt with a 20-win season in 2005.
About to Blossom
Horacio Ramirez was among the league ERA leaders after nine starts last season before being sidelined with nerve damage in his pitching shoulder. Now he's completely healed and ready to pick up where he left off as a rookie when he was 12-4 with a 4.00 ERA.
Brian Jordan has been among the club's most potent hitters this spring. He's in great shape and appears primed for a big year. However, he's proven that he can't be counted on to play 100 games. Ryan Langerhans is much more likely to play 100 games as the left fielder this season.
Do You Feel Lucky?
The Braves' defensive replacement in the outfield and pinch runner this season will likely be minor league stolen base champ Esix Snead, who has stolen 340 bases in his past 640 minor league games. With Raul Mondesi and Jordan iffy in the outfield, you could make a big statement by picking Snead for his speed.
On the surface it seems Rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles are the only Braves who will run on a regular basis. But it's possible that Mondesi, who stole 22 bases in 2003 and is now healthy and 15 pounds lighter than last season, can be back in motion on the basepaths this year.
If Something Should Happen To Danny Kolb
Setup man Chris Reitsma was in line to be the closer in Cincinnati and saved 12 games in 2003 for the Reds. He'd get the first shot. Romas Colon, a hard-throwing, aggressive right-hander is also a candidate on a long-term basis.
Don't Forget About
John Thomson, Chipper Jones, Johnny Estrada, Andruw Jones
Don't Bother With
Julio Franco, Eddie Perez, Kevin Gryboski, Gabe White
David Sabino is the associate editor in charge of statistics at Sports Illustrated and the author of the book, Dominate Your Fantasy Baseball League (Muska & Lipman/Premier-Trade).