Well we've got 29 days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up first: the Atlanta Braves.
Lineup: We're not really sure what to make of this lineup. 3B Chipper Jones, C Brian McCann and SS Yunel Escobar are the three studs here, but CF Nate McLouth and rookie phenom Jason Heyward (heretofore the Jay Hey Kid) should provide some decent hitting around them. Troy Glaus and Eric Hinske are expected to hold down the first base job, and Melky Cabrera should certainly be an upgrade in left. But beyond the outfield, where Jordan Schafer is pushing for the CF job and Matt Diaz can handle lefties, there is zero depth on this team. To wit: Diory Hernandez is the backup shortstop and Brooks Conrad will step in if Martin Prado can't handle the keystone. Yikes. For a team with plenty of injury issues, depth is not a question mark you can afford to have.
Rotation: The league's best pitching last year more or less singlehandedly kept the Braves afloat in the 2009 race, as Tommy Hanson was stellar down the stretch for a rotation that featured a Cy Young-caliber season from Javier Vazquez and another excellent year from Jair Jurrjens. Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami were effective enough, but both are fairly serious question marks; if this group is to even approach last year's output, Tim Hudson is going to have to return strong from elbow surgery and Kris Medlen will need to be effective in spots to fill in the gaps.
Bullpen: Not much promise here. Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito are both some old dudes, but they've been effective in their careers and give Bobby Cox that RHP/LHP combo that he's enjoyed in recent years. If they don't fall off the table, anyway. Peter Moylan, the sidearming Aussie, was effective in his return from surgery last season, and would presumably be next in line if/when Wagner and/or Saito get hurt. The rest is sort of a mishmash of young'ns and the occasional grizzled vet. Which we guess isn't all that dissimilar from most bullpens, but it's not exactly encouraging.
Overall: There's a lot to like here, and it's Bobby Cox's last season, so there's a strong Win Now mentality. But they look paper thin in most areas, and counting on good health as a baseball team is not an especially effective way to win.
Predicted Record: 86-80, 2nd place
Beer: Yuengling. America's oldest brewery, meet America's oldest bullpen. But when the Jay Hey Kid comes up, put down the brewski and just watch and appreciate.