Outside of the Phillies, I am setting out in this post to see what baseball team in the NL East will be most improved this season. Just looking at last year, I would have to say that the Braves stand to be the most improved based upon some of the players they have added to their roster in the offseason.
Last year, the Atlanta Braves almost returned to their old form with a stunning improvement and made the playoffs for the first time since 2005. It had been a long drought for the Braves, who from 1991 to 2005 basically controlled the NL East. In that time period, the Braves appeared in the World Series five times, though they only won one of those series. They always say that a lot of people only remember when you win it all, and that rings true most of the time in baseball.
When you look at a team like the Braves last year, their were several reasons that you could offer that explains some of the success they had. Bobby Cox retired from baseball last year, he had been the skipper of the Braves forever it seemed. Players really admired Cox, and played their hearts out for him last year. Injury and some bad luck prevented the Braves from going deeper into the playoffs, after it seemed that they may not even been in the post season after losing several key members of the team to injury. Another reason that the Braves did so well last year is that they got on base a lot, the team finished first overall in the NL with a .339 OBP. Just getting on base a lot puts you into a great possibility to score runs.
In the off season, the Braves solidified their second base position by adding Dan Uggla. Uggla is one of the best second basemen in the NL. It is kind of rare that a player of his caliber will stay in the same division after leaving a team like the Marlins just as Uggla did. The Braves inked Uggla to a 5 year deal, and even paired him up with the old Florida Marlins manager, Fredi Gonzalez, who probably knows Uggla better than anyone on the Braves team. Lance Parrish is the Braves new hitting coach, and his experience can only help the Braves improve in the batting department this year.
Chipper Jones may just make his final appearance in 2011, his injury plagued year last year is not the kind of memory he would like to have of his last year, so I expect him back for a last hurrah this season. In fact, Jones has already been taking a lot of batting practice with new manager, Fredi Gonzalez. Jones had a torn ACL last year, and it remains to be seen if his health will allow him to put in a complete season but we'll see what happens as time goes on into June and July with Jones.
The payroll for the Brave clocks in at about what it was last year, around the $89 million dollar mark. Outside of the great run by the San Francisco Giants last year, the Braves would have to be on everyone's book as possibly being the team to give the Phillies the best run for the division in 2011. There is always the Mets also, they are a team that have a lot of pieces to their puzzle starting to take shape. We'll look at what happened with the Mets in this offseason in a future post here at FightinPhillies.com.
Last year the Braves finished the season at a respectable 91-71 in second place just 6.0 games behind the Phillies. The Braves will be starting their 136th year as a professional baseball team this year.