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Atlanta Braves
Team Page | Roster | Spring Training Schedule | Regular Season Schedule
On this page: Arrivals | Departures | Spring Cleaning | Team Breakdown | Prospects | Predictions


   Andruw Jones, one of the few "five tool" players in baseball, is poised for a huge season. Andy Lyons/Allsport

By Sam King, CNNSI.com

The Atlanta Braves won 95 games, a ninth division title in 10 seasons, had the league's best pitching staff and finished sixth in runs scored in the National League.

A pretty good year, right? Wrong.

For a team that is never judged until October is over, the Braves had perhaps their most disappointing year since 1990 after getting swept out of the division series by the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals hammered Braves pitching to the tune of a 7.92 ERA and made perennial Cy Young contenders Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine look very, very human. What's more, the offense looked uninterested, and flat out gave away at-bats in Games 2 and 3 after falling behind early.

So in the offseason the Braves naturally did ... not much. After losing out in the Alex Rodriguez and Mike Hampton chases, the franchise punted by signing a first baseman coming off the worst season of his career in Rico Brogna and a guy who played for four teams last year in Dave Martinez. Gone is the bat and leadership of Andres Galarraga. Gone is the bench depth of 2000 provided by Wally Joyner and Bobby Bonilla.

Good news? John Smoltz and his surgically repaired elbow are back on the mound to give the Braves a second power pitcher in the rotation. It's anybody's guess how effective Smoltz can be or how deep he'll be able to go in games, but his mere presence will take pressure off Kevin Millwood. Millwood seemed to regress badly under the pressure of being the staff's No. 3 man behind Maddux and Glavine. Eddie Perez is back to help ease Javy Lopez's burden behind the plate (by catching Maddux). If the Braves get 10-12 wins from Smoltz and John Burkett turns in another magic act of a season, the rotation should be as solid as ever.

 
Top Guns
Braves 2000 team leaders
Avg.  Chipper Jones  .311 
HR  C. Jones/A. Jones  36 
RBIs  Chipper Jones  111 
SB  Rafael Furcal  40 
Wins  Tom Glavine  21 
ERA  Greg Maddux  3.00 
Ks  Greg Maddux  190 
Saves  John Rocker  24 
 
Go Figure

53

Saves by the Braves much maligned bullpen -- tops in the NL.
 
 

For the first time since 1996, the offense was pretty much left alone in the offseason. Second baseman Quilvio Veras has recovered from last season's knee injury, and he should help leadoff man Rafael Furcal set up scoring opportunities for the big bats. The Braves are hoping to get their first look at a healthy B.J. Surhoff, and maybe a season-long look at a healthy Brian Jordan. The key, as always, will be whether Andruw Jones continues his improvement at the plate. He and Chipper Jones will be counted on to do most of the power work on a team with no real 40-HR type hitters. An MVP-type season from one of the Joneses is necessary for the Braves to win the division.

One huge question for this team is depth. It's been a sore spot for years, and 2001 looks to be one of the thinnest Braves teams yet. Dave Martinez isn't going to become Johnny Damon anytime soon, so the success of the bench hinges on Keith Lockhart and rookies Wes Helms and George Lombard. If you're a Braves fan, those are mighty steep odds.

John Rocker will likely pitch controversy-free this season except in New York. That's a big deal since Rocker put up excellent numbers (1.30 ERA, 12-for-13 in save opportunities in the second half) after his "comments" became old news. What Atlanta gets after Rocker in the bullpen is the key. Last season, manager Bobby Cox had to rely too heavily on Mike Remlinger and Kerry Ligtenberg, leaving both with very little gas in the tank down the stretch. Kevin McGlinchy must overcome shoulder problems or the Braves will be left looking for seventh inning help from a collection of rookies (Jason Marquis and Damian Moss) and a rehab case (Odalis Perez).

For more on the Braves, bookmark this page and check back Wednesday, March 21 for a Sports Illustrated Scouting Report.


Arrivals
Pos.  Player  From  Via 
1B  Rico Brogna  Red Sox  Free Agency 
OF  Dave Martinez  Blue Jays  Free Agency 
INF  Kurt Abbott  Mets  Free Agency 
INF  Jesse Garcia  Orioles  Trade 

Departures
Pos.  Player  To  Via 
1B  Wally Joyner  Angels  Free Agency 
1B  Andres Galarraga  Rangers  Free Agency 
RHP  Andy Ashby  Dodgers  Free Agency 
LHP  Terry Mulholland  Pirates  Free Agency 
OF  Bobby Bonilla  Cardinals  Free Agency 
OF  Reggie Sanders  Diamondbacks  Free Agency 
INF  Steve Sisco  Orioles  Trade 

Spring Cleaning
 
Chipper Jones
  • Chipper Jones' struggles at third base raised eyebrows last season. Although a move to left field has been nixed for now, Jones needs to use this spring to clamp down on the shoddy glovework.

  • Andres Galarraga wasn't just a power hitter in the middle of the lineup. He also was a clubhouse leader, especially for the Latin ballplayers. Replacing his presence on the field and in the locker room is a must.

  • A healthy John Smoltz would solidify the Braves' chances of a return to the postseason. But first he has to find his old pitching mechanics and show his arm can stand the strain of a long season.


  • Team Breakdown
    Projected Lineup  Projected Rotation 
    SS  Rafael Furcal  RHP  Greg Maddux 
    CF  Andruw Jones  LHP  Tom Glavine 
    3B  Chipper Jones  RHP  Kevin Millwood 
    RF  Brian Jordan  RHP  John Smoltz 
    LF  B.J. Surhoff  RHP  John Burkett 
    Javy Lopez  Bullpen  
    1B  Rico Brogna  LHP  John Rocker (closer) 
    2B  Quilvio Veras  LHP  Mike Remlinger 
    Key Reserves   RHP  Kerry Ligtenberg 
    OF  Dave Martinez  RHP  Jason Marquis 
    INF  Keith Lockhart  LHP  Odalis Perez 
    Eddie Perez  RHP  Kevin McGlinchy 
    OF  George Lombard  RHP  Marc Valdes 

    Prospects to Watch
  • SS Wilson Betemit -- Betemit, 20, tore up the New York-Penn League to the tune of .331 and finished second in the league in hits and runs. Strong arm makes him a candidate for a move to 3B if necessary.

  • 2B Marcus Giles -- Giles, 22, generates a lot of power considering he's only 5-8 (67 HR the last three seasons). Brian Giles' little brother is coming off a solid 2000 season, appearing in the Southern League All-star game, Double-A All-star game and the Futures Game.

  • RHP Matt McLendon -- Just what the Braves need, more pitching. At 6-6, McLendon has a plus fastball but needs to work on his curve and develop a changeup. Still, the 23-year-old should start at Class AAA Richmond, and an appearance in Atlanta in 2001 is not out of the question.

  • RHP Jason Marquis -- The lanky 22-year-old looks like a young John Smoltz. Mid-90's fastball and an above average curve. Marquis fared well in a brief stint as a long man in the Braves bullpen last season, and could end up there again in 2001.

  • Best-Case Scenario
    Smoltz, Veras, Perez and Brogna all return to their old selves after coming off injuries and the rest of the Braves turn in a reasonable facsimile of past performances. That would make Atlanta one of the three best teams in the NL and likely guarantee a playoff spot. If the Braves have learned anything, however, it's that October is negotiable no matter how many wins you rack up in the regular season.

    Worst-Case Scenario
    Smoltz, Veras, Perez and Brogna struggle, Maddux and Glavine regress and Andruw Jones remains long on potential but short of expectations. That scenario leaves Atlanta's string of division titles in serious jeopardy and the prospect of blowing up the team's core a very likely prospect.

    Bottom Line
    Hey, they're the Braves. Ninety-four to 100 wins is a likely finish, and so is another division title considering the Mets didn't get any better in the offseason. A second World Series title for Glavine and company? Don't bet on it.



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