2008 can certainly be looked upon as a rebuilding year for the Braves. After being a perennial playoff contender, the Braves took a step back last year. The Braves had a dangerous offense consisting of Jeff Francoeur, Brian McCann, and Chipper Jones.
The Braves managed to finish eighth in the league in batting average (.270), fifth in OBP (.345), and seventh in hits (1,514).
However, as good as they were offensively, they were equally bad from a pitching standpoint. Atlanta finished 21st in ERA (4.46), 15th in batting average against (.263), and walked the ninth most hitters in all of baseball (586).
The lone bright spots in the pitching staff were Jair Jurrjens (13-10, 3.68 ERA) and Tim Hudson (11-7, 3.17 ERA). Other than those two, the Braves struggled to find quality arms to help complement the offense, and ultimately finished near the bottom of the NL East.
The Braves no doubt missed appearing in the playoffs in 2008. The offseason signings no doubt reflect on that. Atlanta brought in Garret Anderson, Javier Vazquez, Kenshin Kawakami, David Ross, and, most notably, Derek Lowe.
Jurrjens, Kawakami, and Lowe should help stabilize a pitching staff that lost John Smoltz, Jorge Julio, and Mike Hampton, but by no means should Braves fans expect these acquisitions to improve the staff too much.
The Braves lineup should again feature a solid mixture of speed and power. Yunel Escobar, Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Jeff Francoeur, and Casey Kotchman provide a solid core of productive hitters, but again it will be a lack of pitching that eventually leads to Atlanta missing the playoffs again in 2009.
The rotation shapes up nicely with the addition of Lowe, but the bull-pen is again mediocre at best. Mike Gonzalez will assume the closer role after finishing last season with an 0-3 record and a 4.28 ERA.
Without solid pitching, the most important aspect of a winning baseball team, the Atlanta Braves should expect nothing more than another fourth place finish in the NL Central in 2009.
Surprise Player of 2009
Jair Jurrjens, acquired from the Detroit Tigers, has ace potential. After finishing last year 13-10 with a 3.68 ERA in 31 starts, the young right hander is poised for a breakout season.
Jurrjens features a slider that is essentially knittable when located properly, and has a plus changeup to go with it. Some compare him to Fausto Carmona, not bad at this point in his career.
If the Braves’ efficient offense can produce with Jurrjens on the mound, 2009 can be a year in which product of the Netherlands establishes himself as a dominant force in the major leagues.
Projected 2009 Record
Fourth place in the NL East with a record of 75-87.
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