Atlanta Braves Preview

2005 Overview: Fourteen straight division titles speak volumes for the Atlanta Braves ability to field a competitive team year after year. 2005 was no different. Playing all year in a very tight NL East division, the Braves once again managed to reach the postseason with a 90-72 regular season record. The Braves exited early in the first round of the playoffs, losing in 4 games to the NL Central Houston Astros - but not before playing in the longest playoff game in history, an 18-inning, 5 hour and 50 minute epic battle which ended in the Astros advancing to play the Cardinals for the NL Championship. The Jones boys led the offense once again in 2005.

Outfielder Andrew Jones (.263 51 128), 3rd baseman Chipper Jones (.296 21 72) joined 1st baseman Adam LaRoche (.259 20 78), all star shortstop Rafael Furcal (.

284 12 58) and 2nd baseman Marcus Giles (.291 15 63) to provide a fearsome starting lineup. Newcomer Outfielder Jeff Francoeur (.

300 14 45) also impressed joining the team in July. Pitching has always remained the strongest aspect of every Atlanta team over the past 15 seasons. In 2005 John Smoltz (14-7 3.06 230 innings) returned to the role of starting pitcher after closing games between 2001-2004. The relief role was shared by several pitchers until the Braves acquired Kyle Farnsworth (1-1 2.19 16 saves) midseason.

Starters Tim Hudson (14-9 3.52), Jorge Sosa (13-3 2.55) and Horacio Ramirez (11-9 4.63) also helped provide quality starts en route to the Braves 14th straight postseason appearance. Off Season Moves: Key Braves loses in the off season include Furcal to the Dodgers, Pitching Coach Leo Mazzone to the Orioles as well as closer Kyle Farnsworth to the Yankees.

Former big leaguer Roger McDowell will assume the new role as pitching coach as Atlanta also picked up Edgar Renteria (.276 8 70) from the Red Sox to replace Furcal at short. Pitcher Lance Cormier (7-3 5.11) was also traded from Diamondbacks for Johnny Estrada in three-player deal. 2006 Analysis: The Braves pitching looks to be shaky in 2006.

Expect starter Mike Hampton to miss the entire 2006 season due to Tommy John surgery. John Smoltz will be 39 in May and his right shoulder was subjected to the strain of over 230 innings in 2005 while Tim Hudson has spent some time on the disabled list in both of the last two seasons. Losing Farnsworth leaves a big hole in the closer's role.

Lefty Horacio Ramirez is a solid fourth starter giving the Braves 200 innings that they badly needed last season. Expect Sosa to battle for the fifth spot in the rotation. Bottom line: John Schuerholz will need to get more bullpen help, including a legitimate closer, or the Braves are in serious trouble in 2006. Offensively, although the loss of shortstop and leadoff hitter Furcal to the Dodgers was a huge blow All-Star and Gold Glove winner Edgar Renteria should see a resurgence in 2006, many believed Renteria had difficulties fitting in to the Red Sox team atmosphere - but he did manage an impressive 70 RBI.

It's likely that 2B Marcus Giles will move up to the leadoff positive, with Renteria batting second in manager Bobby Cox's newly retooled lineup. .

By: Jack Scrafford


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