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MLB preview: Atlanta Braves

Lots of people are down on the Braves after they struggled late last season and as some of their hitters struggle to develop. I think their pitching is enough to cover their flaws.

2011 record: 89-73 (2nd in NL East). Projected 2012 finish: 89-73 (2nd in NL East).

Projected starters: C Brian McCann, 1B Freddie Freeman, 2B Dan Uggla, SS Tyler Pastornicky, 3B Chipper Jones, LF Martin Prado, CF Michael Bourn, RF Jason Heyward, SP Tim Hudson, SP Jair Jurrjens, SP Tommy Hanson, SP Brandon Beachy, SP Mike Minor, CL Craig Kimbrel, RP Jonny Venters, RP Eric O'Flaherty.

Half-full outlook: When Hanson is your likely No. 3 starter and heralded prospects like Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran can't find a spot, it is safe to say that you have an excellent, deep rotation. Minor's respectable 4.14 ERA was the highest by any projected Braves starter last season, and by quite a wide margin. In Kimbrel and Venters, the Braves have an overwhelming tandem to anchor their bullpen. And I don't expect the Braves to be that bad offensively. I think Heyward has a good chance to figure it out this year. A full season of Bourn will help. McCann, Uggla and even Jones remain excellent hitters for the positions they play.

Half-empty outlook: The baseball world thought Heyward was surely on his way to stardom last season, and he delivered a .227/.319/.389 slash line. There are no guarantees that won't happen again, and he's the one potential star in this lineup, unless you count McCann, who's got a lot of miles on him. Uggla obviously has great power, especially for a second baseman, but doesn't do a whole lot else. The sun is quickly setting on Jones' great career. Bourn has 13 career home runs and a career .336 OBP. Prado and Freeman are OK but not what you'd call great for where they play. Pastornicky's next regular-season MLB at bat will be his first. It is conceivable that the Braves won't hit enough to make the playoffs in a very tough division, even if their pitching is excellent.

Halfway between the two outlook: I do not expect the Braves' offense to be great, but I do expect it to be passable, and passable is good enough to contend when you have as much pitching as they do. It's quite a luxury to be able to slide in a Delgado or a Teheran if any one of the other five starters gets hurt or struggles. Washington and Florida are improved enough that I think the Braves are in for a fight, but they look like a wild card team to me, if not a legitimate challenger to the Phillies.

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