No. 2 Atlanta Braves
2000 Record: 95-67 (1st NL East)
After being embarrassed by the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round of the playoffs, the Atlanta Braves were expected to sign a big name free-agent over the winter. That didn't happen, but the Braves are counting on comebacks to go further this season.
John Smoltz's return from elbow surgery isn't going as quickly as expected. Still, he will likely be the third or fourth starter behind Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and possibly Kevin Millwood. Something to keep an eye on is how Glavine and Maddux adapt to baseball's new high, but narrower, strike zone.
Offense could be a problem for a team with only Andruw and Chipper Jones as legitimate power hitters. Rafael Furcal and Quilvio Veras should run wild at the top of the order, but Brian Jordan and B.J. Surhoff will have to return from injury to fill out the lineup.
Free agent pick up Rico Brogna will be a pivotal player. He replaces Andres Galarraga at first base, but putting Brogna In Focus shows that all his numbers were dramatically down in 2000 after a broken forearm cut his season short. Even though he'll likely hit at the bottom of the order, Brogna will have to produce for team that will have to do more manufacturing of runs than they have in a decade.
If the Braves can consistently score, I think their pitching makes them one of the NL's best. I rank them as the second-best team in baseball.