Feeling Brave: The 2009 Atlanta Braves Preview

After making the playoffs each season for what seemed like my entire life, the Atlanta Braves were shutout of the postseason for the second consecutive year.

To make matters worse, the NL East is as strong as ever with the Florida Marlins on the upward trend and the New York Mets having reloaded the entire bullpen. Don't forget about the defending World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies adding outfielder Raul Ibanez to offset the loss of Pat Burrell.

The Braves had to make a move or two this offseason and they made plenty thus far in response to a terribly disappointing 72-90 finish in 2008.

Pitching was the focal point of the offseason plan for Atlanta and the goal was to build on the young guns in the rotation. With John Smoltz departing after an injury riddled season to Boston, Tim Hudson needing surgery and Tom Glavine's status up in the air for a 2009 ETA, the new era had begun at Turner Field regardless if the Braves were ready or not.

Jair Jurriens put together an outstanding rookie season, pacing the team with a 13-10 record coupled with a 3.68 ERA. Jurriens should continue to get better and won't be counted on as the staff ace thanks to the moves made so far this offseason.

The first order of business was trying to get former Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy from the San Diego Padres. But much like the Chicago Cubs, Atlanta found this to be an extremely daunting task. After realizing it wasn't going happen, the Braves shifted their attention toward Chicago's Javier Vazquez.

Vazquez had a terrible second half of the season punctuated by an epic collapse down during the White Sox' stretch run toward a division title. He had an ERA of 6.25 in September which ballooned his season ERA to 4.67. On top of that, he also lost 16 games on a team that hit the most home runs in the league and went to the playoffs.

They don't call him little-game Javy for nothing in Chicago.

At this point in his 10-year career, he is what he is. Vazquez has a career ERA of 4.32 and the years he pitched better than that were on bad teams for the most part. His 200 strikeouts led the White Sox and he'll probably lead the Braves in that category too.

To expect anything more than an ERA less that 4.32 though may be asking to much at this stage of his career unless Atlanta is out of contention most of the season. The switch from the American League to the National Leauge should also help his numbers.

For all the evidence stacked up against his favor there are plenty of things to like about this move. For one, the Braves get a legit 200-innings-a-year starter with the capacity to easily amount 200 strikeouts and to take the ball every time his spot in the rotation comes up.

The free agent signing of Derek Lowe was also an extremely important move to overhaul the rotation.

Lowe has always had a sterling reputation as a post season pitcher and put together another solid season with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008 with a 14-11 record and an ERA of 3.24 in 211 innings.

The two additions aside I just don't think this rotation scares anyone but I do see a drastic improvement with this club if Glavine returns to form later in the season, ditto Tim Hudson.

The offense will feature plenty of familiar faces and if Braves' brass had their way, it would like even more familiar to fans.

Former shortstop Rafael Furcal had all but signed with Atlanta before making a last-second move in resigning with the Dodgers. Former center fielder Andruw Jones was granted his release after a debacle of a season in Los Angeles.

Jones may offer the Braves a cheap option in center field and a chance to breath life into his stalled career while giving the team a chance to move young outfielder Gregor Blanco from center field to left field.

The move would only be a short term one at that because the farm system is loaded with talented outfielders including Jason Heyward and Jordan Schafer.

Larry "Chipper" Jones will once again man the hot corner while Brian McCann made the trading of catching prospect Tyler Flowers (in the Vazquez deal) easy to swallow.

The season will likely be another rebuilding one for the Braves as they wait for their duo of outfielders to come up through the minor league system along with ace-in-the-waiting Tommy Hanson to do the same.

The NL East is simply too strong right now on paper for Atlanta to finish above the Phillies or the Mets.