Sure, Atlanta has a shot to get back to the playoffs again this season. But can they get over the hump and into the World Series?
And can we find any value with the Braves on the MLB futures betting market?
2013 Quick Review
Atlanta jumped out to a 12-1 start and never gave up the lead in the NL East from there, finishing 10 games ahead of second-place Washington, winning the division at odds of 5/2. The Braves also played OVER their wins total of 88.
Atlanta's season, however, came to an end with a divisional-round loss to the Dodgers.
The Braves posted the best home record in baseball last year, going 56-25 at Turner Field, but couldn't even play .500 on the road, going 40-41 on the room-service circuit.
Over the off-season Atlanta took some hits when it lost C Brian McCann and SPs Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm to free-agency.
At the Bat
Atlanta ranked 13th in the Majors last year in team OBP at .321, fifth in homers with 181, only 24th in stolen bases with 64 and 13th in scoring at 4.3 runs per game. But Jason Heyward missed 58 games, and the Braves got very little help from Dan Uggla and BJ Upton, who combined to hit .181 last year in 840 at-bats, with 320 (!) strikeouts.
This year, with a lineup that could go Andrelton Simmons-Heyward-Justin Upton-Freddie Freeman-Evan Gattis-Uggla-Upton-Chris Johnson, Atlanta could be dangerous. But it's got to get better results from Uggla and Upton, and repeat performances from Gattis and Johnson.
As a team the Braves struck out 1,384 times last year; they've got to cut that number down if they're going to get by the Nats and Dodgers in the playoffs this fall.
On the Mound
Atlanta will miss Hudson, but should still field a solid pitching corps.
Kris Medlen has allowed fewer hits than innings pitched for the last two seasons, and the same can be said of Mike Minor; both are coming off their best years in the Majors.
Julio Teheran, as a 22-year-old last year, compiled a 170/45 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in 186 innings. Even though he's the least experienced of the Braves top three starters, he's got a chance to become the staff ace.
Brandon Beachy was limited to five starts last year because of a bad elbow, but hopes to take the four spot in the rotation. He could really provide Atlanta with a boost if he can return to his form of 2011-12.
Young Alex Wood and veteran Gavin Floyd are expected to battle for the five spot.
The Braves led the Majors last year with a 3.18 team ERA and ranked second in quality starts with 102. Medlen, Minor and Teheran accounted for 63 of those.
Atlanta also featured the best bullpen in baseball last season, anchored by the almost-untouchable Craig Kimbrel. The Braves pen led the Majors with a neat 2.46 ERA while converting 53 of 69 save chances. And while this year's pen might not put up those same numbers, it should still rank as one of the best around.
2014 Braves Futures
With camp just kicking off down in Lake Buena Vista the best futures prices we could find on Atlanta was the +125 to win the NL East at Bovada; the +1000 to win the National League at BetOnline; and the 20/1 to win the World Series at Bovada.
Atlanta is close; with improvement from a couple of guys the lineup could be very solid, the rotation could be very good and the bullpen is great. However, the Braves play in the same division as the Nationals, one of the few teams in baseball with better pitching.
Atlanta is the kind of team you'd like to bet on, if you could get just a little bit more, like 15/1 on a pennant board. Ten-to-one sounds a little short to us, but we wouldn't talk anybody out of taking the Braves at that price.
Atlanta begins this season with a three-game series in Milwaukee March 31-April 2.