30 in 30ish: MLB Preview — Atlanta Braves

Over the course of 30 days (or so) I will be previewing all 30 MLB teams, followed by an overall season prediction post, leading up to the start of the 2015 season. This post is previewing the Atlanta Braves.

The Braves had a busy offseason, making a number of trades that sent players like C/OF Evan Gattis to the Astros and OF Justin Upton to the Padres. The most notable trade sent OF Jason Heyward and P Jordan Walden to the Cardinals in exchange for P Shelby Miller and a minor leaguer. The team’s biggest free agent signings included OFs Nick Markakis and Jonny Gomes, P Jason Grilli — who should provide solid late-inning work in front of closer Craig KImbrel — and C A.J. Pierzynski.

After finishing last season four games under .500 and in a tie for second place in the division, the Braves are looking to get back atop the division, where they finished the 2013 season. The team had a below-average offense last year — finishing in the bottom five in categories like batting average, OPS, runs/game, total bases and home runs — and it doesn’t look to improve much after trading the hitters who ranked second through fourth on the team in batting average last season. Markakis is a decent replacement, but Gomes, a career .244 hitter, will likely cause a drop-off in the lineup’s production. The pitching was the best aspect of the Braves’ season last year, as they finished third in the NL with a 3.38 team ERA. Adding Miller to an already-good rotation should help out the pitching game. If the team can get a lead to KImbrel — one of the league’s best closers — in the ninth, he’ll almost always hold the lead.

The Braves seem to have downgraded their offense but added a good piece to their starting rotation this winter. Most of the other teams in the division also improved their teams, though, including the Nationals, who won the division last year. So I don’t think the Braves offseason acquisitions will be enough for a return to the playoffs. In fact, I don’t see the Braves finishing better than third in the East, and a fourth-place finish isn’t out of the question.

Source: http://www.atlantabraves.com, http://www.baseball-reference.com

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