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National League capsules
Manager: Fredi Gonzalez (1st season).
Projected Lineup: LF Martin Prado (.307, 15, 66), CF Nate McLouth (.190, 6, 24), 3B Chipper Jones (.265, 10, 46), 2B Dan Uggla (.287, 33, 105 with Florida), C Brian McCann (.269, 21, 77), RF Jason Heyward (.277, 18, 72, 11 SBs), SS Alex Gonzalez (.250, 23, 88 with Toronto and Atlanta), 1B Freddie Freeman (.319, 18, 87 with Triple-A Gwinnett).
Key Relievers: RH Craig Kimbrel (4-0, 0.44 ERA, 1 save, 40 Ks in 20 2-3 IP), LH Jonny Venters (4-4, 1.95), RH Peter Moylan (6-2, 2.97), RH Scott Linebrink (3-2, 4.40 with White Sox), LH Eric O'Flaherty (3-2, 2.45).
Hot Spots: CF, 3B, closer. The Braves are counting on McLouth to recapture the form he showed three years ago in Pittsburgh (.276, 26 HRs, 94 RBIs, 46 doubles, 23 SBs). If not, there’s a big hole in the middle of the outfield. But the most important hitter in the lineup is Jones, who got off to such a miserable start last season he considered retirement. He began hitting, only to sustain a season-ending knee injury. Coming back from major surgery as approaches his 39th birthday, Jones won’t be able to play every day. But if he looks a bit like the Chipper of old _ he sure did in spring training _ and stays relatively healthy, that will be a big boost to the offense. Last season, the Braves had Wagner to close out games, and he was one of the best in the business. But Wagner has retired, leaving youngsters Kimbrel and Venters to share the role for now. They certainly have the stuff to do it _ especially Kimbrel _ but haven’t been tested in a lot of pressure situations.
Outlook: The Braves reached the playoffs for the first time in five years, only to lose to eventual World Series champion San Francisco in the opening round. They’ll find it tough to overcome defending NL East champion Philadelphia, especially with the Phillies adding Cliff Lee to an already-stellar rotation, but Atlanta feels it has its own version of the Big Four with Jurrjens recovered after an injury-plagued season. The team addressed one of its major issues by trading for Uggla, adding a much-needed right-hander power hitter. But a healthy Jones is still a key, and the team doesn’t have much speed no matter who’s in the lineup. Kimbrel certainly had the look of a closer when he came up late in the season, but the fact is he has only one career save. He’ll have his hands full trying to replace the reliable Wagner, who ended his career with a brilliant 37-save season. And, of course, there’s a huge change in the dugout. Bobby Cox retired after more than two decades as the Braves manager. He was replaced by protege Fredi Gonzalez, the former Florida Marlins skipper.
2010: 80-82, third place.
Manager: Edwin Rodriguez (1st full season).
Projected Lineup: CF Chris Coghlan (.268, 5, 28 in 91 starts), 2B Omar Infante (.321, 8, 47 for Atlanta), SS Hanley Ramirez (.300, 21, 76, 32 SBs), RF Mike Stanton (.259, 22, 59 in 100 games), LF Logan Morrison (.283, 2, 18 in 62 games), 1B Gaby Sanchez (.273, 19, 85), C John Buck (.281, 20, 66 for Toronto), 3B Emilio Bonifacio (.261, 0, 10, 12 SBs in 73 games).
By Matt Kibbe
The short-term deal will assure long-term overspending
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