The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.

MAY  2006

                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.







2006 Atlanta Braves

By Jerry Keys

The Atlanta Braves have become accustom to winning division titles as much as the New York Times has been to catering to liberal crybabies.  As they go for their 15th straight flag, it really hit home as to what a great accomplishment this was when I was talking baseball with a college senior this month.  I asked him if he thought Atlanta had enough talent to repeat again.  He replied, "Aren't they always supposed to win?  They have won it ever since I was in first grade."

We can take the time machine back to the late 1990's, to find a team that posed a legitimate threat to their streak, the New York Mets.  The Mets are primed again to knock off the Braves.  On paper, the Mets have the better team.  They had the better team on paper in 1999 and 2000 but they fell short each time.

Jerry Keys

Chris Reitsma:
Will he fill the closer
role in 06

In recent years, Atlanta brass has let many star players go elsewhere.  Although, many have not produced as they had in the past and you never see the Braves overpaying for a player.
Adam LaRoche (.259 batting average, 20 home runs, 78 runs batted in) and mainstay Chipper Jones (.296, 21, 72) return to handle the infield corners while Marcus Giles (.291, 15, 63) and newly acquired Edgar Renteria (.276, 8, 70) will start at 2B and short.

2005 rookie sensation Jeff Francoeur (.300, 14, 45) will start in right field, Ryan Langerhans (.267, 8, 42) in left, and MVP candidate Andruw Jones (.263, 51, 128) in center.  Young prospect Brian McCann (.278, 5, 23) will take over the catching duties.

Key reserves for 2006 will be veteran OF Brian Jordan (.247, 3, 24, formerly with Atlanta from 1999-2001 and was key player in the Gary Sheffield swap with the Dodgers), IF Wilson Betemit (.305, 4, 20), and catcher Todd Pratt (.251, 7, 23).

A continuing influx of youth will certainly be a key to Atlanta's success.  Newly acquired OF Matt Diaz (.281in 89 at-bats), and IF prospects Pete Orr (.300 in 150 AB), Martin Prado (no major league experience prior to 2006), and Tony Pena (no major

league experience prior to 2006 and yes, his dad is the stalwart catcher Tony Pena 1980-1997).

The Braves have an adequate amount of home run threats but no one is a serious threat outside of Andruw.  The injury bug has beset Chipper in recent years, LaRoche has yet to prove to be a feared slugger, and Francoeur has yet to face the sophomore jinx.  Another problem is the lack of speed on the base paths (Rafael Furcal left after '05 via free agency).  With the crackdown on steroid use, many teams are returning to the "back in the day" art of smallball; the hit and run, advancing runners, stealing bases.  These will be important parts of Atlanta's repertoire since they can no longer rely on the long ball or shutdown pitching.

The Braves pitching will be suspect in 2006, especially with Mike Hampton being out for the year (I predicted him to have a breakout year in '05 and he started off like a Cy Young Award candidate; then he was injured.  The same thing happened with Kevin Millwood about six years ago.  Do I now have the SI Cover Jinx?).

Heading the rotation is veteran John Smoltz (14-7 wins-loses, 169 strikeouts, 3.06 earned run average), followed by Tim Hudson (14-9, 115, 3.52).  To be the staff ace and co-ace, more than 28 wins are expected.  Jorge Sosa (13-3, 85, 2.55) was a hidden gem in '05 and a catalyst in Atlanta's 14th division flag.  Sosa must prove '05 not to be a career year and solidify the staff as the #3 starter. 

John Thomson (4-6, 4.47 in 17 starts) was bitten by the injury bug last year but was previously regarded as an "inning eating" pitcher.  Being the #4 starter, the win-loss record is somewhat irrelevant if you can log 200+ innings.  Thomson should accomplish this in '06 if he avoids the injury bug.  The #5 starter will be either Horacio Ramirez (11-9, 80, 4.63) or Kyle Davies (7-6, 62, 4.93).

The most amazing part of Atlanta's run is they have done so the last few years with slightly average pitching and hitting.  Smoltz and Hudson will need to combine for roughly 35 wins, as the #3-5 starters follow it 35 as well.  70 wins by a starting staff in today's baseball "specialty roles" all but ensure a playoff berth.  Far cry from the 1971 Baltimore Orioles (4 starters won 81 games).

The '05 Dan Kolb experiment ended in disaster and Atlanta once again, starts the season without a proven closer.  Last time they started the season with one?  Besides Smolties short stay in the bullpen, we have to look all the way back to Mark Wohlers.  Who will be the surprise closer in '06?

The bullpen, as usual, is filled with question marks.  The only familiar name to most Brave fans is Mike Remlinger (1999-2002 in 1st tour as a Brave).  The rest of the pen includes Lance Cormier Chuck James, Ken Ray, John Foster, Oscar Villarrea. Will the projected closer please step forward? 

The NL East will be a four team race with the Florida Marlins inching through rebuilding stage #2 (at least when they are competitive they do contend; 2 World Series rings in first 11 years.  Atlanta has one since Eisenhower was President).

The Washington Nationals jumped out of the gate early last year but faded after July. 

The Philadelphia Phillies have the edge over Atlanta in offensive firepower but are vulnerable on the mound.  The Phils are, believe it or not, in worse shape than Atlanta closer-wise.

I picked the Mets to win the NL East in 2000.  I was rooting for the Braves but I felt the run was over.  It wasn't.  This time, I think it is.  As the adage goes (The Godfather III), the weaknesses we have become the enemy's strength. 

New York has the advantage in the infield (1B-Carlos Delgado, 2B-Kazuo Matsui, 3B-David Wright, SS-Jose Reyes C-Paul Lo Duca) and outfield (Carlos Beltran, Cliff Floyd, Xavier Nady).  New York also has the edge in pitching (Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Victor Zambrano, Steve Trachsel, and Brian Bannister) and closer Billy Wagner. 

Atlanta could very well be the lone wild card entry (the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl on the road, as a wild card) and pull off a few upsets.  How many expected the '02 Anaheim Angels or the '03 Marlins to win the World Series?

The Braves have a good mix of youth and veterans, the question is; who will step up.  Keep your eyes on Betemit and Villarreal..  Remember how David Justice, Ron Gant, Steve Avery, and Glavine snuck up upon us?