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2010 MLB Playoff Preview - Atlanta Braves
Nate Springfield | Tuesday October 5th, 2010
The Braves are sending Cox off with a bang. (AP)
The Braves are sending Cox off with a bang. (AP)
NL East Champs
The Braves are sending Cox off with a bang. (AP)
It took 162 games but the Atlanta Braves punched their playoff ticket on Sunday by beating the Phillies, in what turned out to be a closer game than it first appeared to be.  The Braves survived the 2010 campaign, having to change their rotation and line-up often due to lack of performance and injuries.  This is the first time the Braves have made the post season via the Wild Card and it will be Bobby Cox 's last as a manager as the Braves try to take him out in style over the next month.

After each team clinches a Playoff Spot Baseball Press will break down their strengths and weaknesses as they head into the post season.

Offense
Quick how many projected opening day Brave starters were in the starting line-up for their final game?  If you had the answer of 2 you were right - Rookie of the Year candidate Jason Heyward in right field and Brian McCann behind the dish.  Some new faces added to the offense during the season were Alex Gonzalez (Yunel Escobar ), Derrek Lee (Troy Glaus ) and Rick Ankiel (Nate McLouth ).  Overall big picture this offense has been a disappointment.  Their success has come from piecing together hot streaks from a couple different players at a time throughout the season.  That probably is obvious with the amount of names that have already been mentioned.  And even though you won't see the Braves at the top of any of the "sexy" categories when you are looking at the NL rankings, they are atop the most important - OBP.  With all the downfalls that this offense has, it gets on base and by doing so they produce the runs they need to win ball games.

Defense
Overall this is a slightly above average defense.  Unlike many of the other teams that we have already previewed, there is no blatant hole out in the field for the Braves.  At the same time the only two "exceptional" fielders that they will be trotting out there for the post season are Rick Ankiel in center field and Jason Heyward in right.  The lowest rated guy playing in October is Martin Prado 's replacement Brooks Conrad at the hot corner.  What is interesting is that Chipper Jones ' replacement Omar Infante at third - who is now at second base, we mentioned a lot of replacements didn't we - with Brooks Conrad at second is statistically a better alignment than putting at Brooks at third and Omar at second.  But between those two at either position Infante is best at second so that is why Bobby Cox probably has him there - and who am I to argue with Bobby Cox.

Bench
With all of the injuries and replacements that the Braves have in their starting line-up a majority of their current bench has missed out on consistent Major League playing time and at-bats.  What is unfortunate for the Braves is that the player with the most at-bats this year who will be coming off the bench is Melky CabreraMelky finished the year with a .256 average with only 4 home runs and a .317 OBP.  They do have the once serviceable Troy Glaus and Nate McLouth as options as well as Eric Hinske - unless he is starting in left - who has been real good for Bobby Cox as a role player this year.  When called upon to pinch hit this season the bench has done so at a .250 clip with 10 home runs and 42 RBI for a .766 OPS.  Those are quite good numbers over all and if you are looking at just these numbers if gives them a slight edge over the other NL teams in the post season.  The unfortunate thing is most of the guys that produced those numbers are now every day guys for the Braves and it is almost a crap shoot on how their bench guys will handle the bat in a pinch hit role outside of Hinske.

Starting Rotation
This is the part of the team that Braves have always been able to, and still can, brag about as they enter post season play once again.  The National League comeback performance of the year in my book should go to the Braves rotation anchor Tim Hudson .  After making only 7 starts in 2009, he was able to recover from Tommy John Surgery in time for Spring Training and has won 17 games, held onto a sub 3.00 ERA on the season and almost had a 2 to 1 strike out to walk ratio.  Follow him with a young electric arm like Tommy Hanson and you have a very strong 1-2 punch at the top of your rotation.  Hanson, pitching in his first full season, was no slouch either striking out 173 in 202.2 innings pitched with a 3.33 ERA.  He had some ups and downs this year, and if you erase a half dozen bad starts he had his ERA would be closer to 2 than to 3.  The #3 guy that Cox has to go with in the Divisional Series is the September NL Pitcher of the Month Derek Lowe .  After having a forgettable season up to September, something has clicked in the veteran with the calendar change.  In September he had 5 wins in as many starts, posting a 1.17 ERA in 30.2 innings pitched.  That means he allowed only 4 earned runs and also carried a 29/3 strike out/walk ratio in the month.  If he can keep producing that like that in the post season the Braves may have the second best 1-2-3 behind their NL East rival Philadelphia Phillies.

Bullpen
Their leader in the pen is their closer Billy Wagner , whose swan song of a year has been exceptional.  Another Tommy John Surgery survivor, inked a one year deal in the off season with the Braves to be the teams anchor in the late innings, and he did just that converting 37 of 44 save opportunities.  Wagner had a pretty strong supporting cast to help get him the ball in the ninth with the lead.  The other lefty in the pen with a sub 2.00 ERA is Jonny Venters .  Venters has seen the most innings out of anyone in the bullpen, striking out 93 batters in his 83 innings of work.  Another highlight coming out of the pen is youngster Craig Kimbrel .  After seeing some time earlier in the year, he became a permanent fixture after September 1.  In his 20.2 innings of work he has a 0.44 ERA with 40 strike outs.  Yes number guys and gals, that is almost 2 strike outs an inning.  If the Braves have the lead after the 6th inning it is almost game over for the other team.  The dark horse that may or may not be a factor in the playoffs is Takashi Saito .  He went on the disabled list September 18th and in his only work since he gave up 2 earned runs in .1 innings of work.  Cox may decide that he is not worth the gamble and carry an extra bat instead, but he is vying for that 25th spot on the play off roster at this time.

Nate SpringfieldNate Springfield joined the Baseball Press crew for the 2010 season and hosts the site's podcast. His love for the game has grown thanks to fantasy baseball, with a specialty in NL-only auction leagues. You can contact him at nate@baseballpress.com or follow him on Twitter @NateSpringfield.