Sports Outside the Beltway

Atlanta Braves 2006 Season Preview

The Braves won their season opener in an 11-10 shootout with the LA Dodgers. Still, AJC writer Dave O’Brien‘s 2006 season preview is worth recording for posterity:


Starters: Adam LaRoche (1B), Marcus Giles (2B), Chipper Jones (3B), Edgar Renteria (SS). Backups: Pete Orr (2B/SS), Wilson Betemit (SS/3B), Brian Jordan (1B).

Hits: If Renteria can shake last year’s 30-error season with Boston and approach the two-time Gold Glove form he had with St. Louis, the Braves will have another slick double-play combination and steady defense up the middle.

Misses: There’s a sharp dropoff in offense if Giles or Chipper Jones gets hurt, and each had significant injuries in recent seasons. LaRoche has hit infrequently against lefties, and neither backup has played first base in the majors.

NL East comparison: If the regulars stay healthy, it’s the best all-around infield in a division weakened in that area by Florida’s payroll purge. The Mets have the most potent offensive infield.


Starters: Ryan Langerhans (LF), Andruw Jones (CF), Jeff Francoeur (RF). Backups: Matt Diaz, Brian Jordan.

Hits: Jones has won eight consecutive Gold Gloves and is regarded as baseball’s best defensive center fielder. Langerhans is an excellent defensive outfielder. Francoeur has good instincts, range and a strong, accurate arm.

Misses: The Braves are relying on players at the outfield corners who have only 22 homers, 77 RBIs and less than two years of major league service between them.

NL East comparison: Possibly the best defensive outfield in the East or the NL. If Francoeur is steady and Langerhans builds on his late surge, the three could amass 100 homers and 280 RBIs.


Starter: Brian McCann. Backup: Todd Pratt.

Hits: McCann, 22, is multitalented with potential to hit for high average and power, sound defensive skills, and game-calling ability beyond his years. Pratt is a savvy veteran who should help McCann develop.

Misses: Pratt has a mediocre 23 percent career success rate throwing out base-stealers. McCann threw out only four of 26 as a rookie, but showed improvement this spring.

NL East comparison: Potentially as good a combo as any. But after only 49 starts, McCann shouldn’t be compared yet with veterans Mike Lieberthal, Paul Lo Duca and Brian Schneider.


Tim Hudson (R), John Smoltz (R), Horacio Ramirez (L), Jorge Sosa (R), Kyle Davies (R) or John Thomson (R)

Hits: Depth and leadership. Hudson and Smoltz are as accomplished as any 1-2 punch in the National League. Davies showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie season and again this spring.

Misses: Hudson (side) and Smoltz (arm) had recurring injuries in recent seasons, and Thomson had a sore elbow the last week of spring training that quashed trade talks and made him questionable for the opening day roster.

NL East comparison: If healthy, it’s the best rotation in the division and one of the best in the NL.


Chris Reitsma (R), Oscar Villarreal (R), Blaine Boyer (R), Lance Cormier (R), Mike Remlinger (L), Chuck James (L)

Hits: This group of hard-throwing young setup men could be formidable, especially if promising lefty Macay McBride (forearm) returns from the disabled list in April. Villarreal and Boyer have closer-caliber stuff.

Misses: Reitsma is the only experienced closer in the group, and his 15 saves in 2005 came with nine blown opportunities. He faded late the past two summers from heavy workloads and nagging injuries. James has no relief experience.

NL East comparison: All depends on health. If shoulders hold up for Boyer and Remlinger, and McBride comes back strong, and Villarreal stays healthy … you get the picture.


Pete Orr (INF), Wilson Betemit (INF), Matt Diaz (OF), Brian Jordan (1B/OF)

Hits: Diaz has been very productive in the high minors and hit .333 against lefties in 72 major league at-bats. Betemit hit .305 as a rookie and plays quality defense at short and third.

Misses: The Braves failed to replace Julio Franco with a feared pinch hitter. The only experienced veteran in this group is the injury-prone Jordan, who hasn’t played as many as 80 games since 2002.

NL East comparison: Could rank near the bottom, unless Jordan stays healthy and Diaz hits like he did during spring training.

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