Diving into the depths: Atlanta Braves

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This is part of a 30-article series looking at each team’s depth chart headed into spring training.
Atlanta Braves
Rotation
1. Tim Hudson
2. Jair Jurrjens
3. Derek Lowe
4. Tommy Hanson
5. Kenshin Kawakami
6. Jo-Jo Reyes
7. Kris Medlen
8. James Parr
9. Todd Redmond
10. Kyle Cofield
The Braves had one starter too many before the Javier Vazquez deal, but now they’re lacking in depth in case injuries strike. That will especially be the case if Reyes, who is out of options, fails to make the team this spring. Medlen would do well if needed, but he’ll be awfully valuable in the pen, too, and there’s not anyone trustworthy behind him.
Bullpen
1. Billy Wagner
2. Takashi Saito
3. Peter Moylan
4. Eric O’Flaherty
5. Kris Medlen
6. Jesse Chavez
7. Michael Dunn
8. Manny Acosta
9. Jo-Jo Reyes
10. Luis Valdez
11. Scott Proctor
12. Juan Abreu
13. Craig Kimbrel
14. Stephen Marek
15. Mariano Gomez
The top five are locks and then the next four figure to compete for two spots during spring training. Proctor underwent Tommy John surgery in May, so he’ll be behind at the start of the year. Ideally, Kimbrel would come up and make an impact in the second half.


Catcher
1. Brian McCann
2. David Ross
3. Clint Sammons
First base
1. Troy Glaus
2. Eric Hinske
3. Martin Prado
4. Freddie Freeman
Second base
1. Martin Prado
2. Omar Infante
3. Brooks Conrad
4. Diory Hernandez
5. Joe Thurston
Third base
1. Chipper Jones
2. Omar Infante
3. Brooks Conrad
4. Joe Thurston
5. Eric Hinske
Shortstop
1. Yunel Escobar
2. Diory Hernandez
3. Brooks Conrad
4. Brandon Hicks
I like the Glaus signing for first base, and Hinske is a nice fallback in case he gets hurt. If Glaus does spend some time on the disabled list, what the Braves will likely do is use Hinske against righties and Prado against lefties, with Infante filling in at second base.
Left field
1. Matt Diaz
2. Melky Cabrera
3. Eric Hinske
4. Mitch Jones
5. Gregor Blanco
Center field
1. Nate McLouth
2. Melky Cabrera
3. Jordan Schafer
4. Gregor Blanco
Right field
1. Melky Cabrera
2. Jason Heyward
3. Eric Hinske
4. Mitch Jones
5. Brent Clevlen
The big decision here is whether or not to have Heyward open the season in right field. Ideally, the Braves would be able to send him to Triple-A for two months, just like they did Hanson last season. However, it would leave them without a lot of punch in the outfield. My guess is that they do it anyway, but it will probably come down to how Heyward performs in spring training.

Astros vs. Dodgers is a match made in heaven

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A lot of people who work at the league office or who take paychecks from the Fox network probably wanted to see the Yankees and the Cubs in the World Series. They won’t admit it, of course, but I suspect that many did, as the ratings for a Cubs-Yankees Series might’ve broken modern records. If they are at all disappointed by the Astros and Dodgers winning the pennant, however, they should let that go because they’ve been gifted by a wonderful matchup from a purely baseball perspective. Indeed, it’s one of the best on-paper matchups we’ve had in the Fall Classic in many years.

Before the Dodgers went on their late-August, early-September swoon, this was the potential World Series pairing most folks who know a thing or two wanted to see. At least I did, and I don’t think I was alone. It was certainly the matchup which represented the teams with the two best regular season records and storylines at the time. While Cleveland ended up winning more games than Houston did, for the first time since 1970 we have a World Series pitting two 100-win teams against each other.

Like that Orioles-Reds series in 1970, which featured Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and a host of other All-Stars, the Dodgers-Astros provide us with an embarrassment of big names and future Hall of Famers. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Astros DH/OF Carlos Beltran are destined for induction already. Astros ace Justin Verlander may very well join them, especially if his late 2017 surge is evidence of a second career peak. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve‘s first seven years and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen‘s first eight are the stuff upon which Cooperstown resumes are made as well. People will be arguing Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame case for years once he retires.

Youth is served as well in this matchup, with each club featuring a handful of the game’s best young players to accompany their big name veteran stars.

The Dodgers will bat their no-doubt N.L. Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger second or third in the lineup every game. 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who sat out the NLCS with a bad back, is expected to be activated for the Series where he’ll be the Dodgers shortstop. The Astros are actually an old team on paper — Verlander, catcher Brian McCann, starter Charlie Morton, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, outfielder Josh Reddick and DH Evan Gattis are all over 30 while Beltran is 40 — but young players are essential to their attack as well. Shortstop Carlos Correa just turned 23 and he’s one of the game’s brightest stars. Third baseman Alex Bregman, also 23, made the play that may very well have broken the Yankees’ back during Saturday night’s pennant clincher. Age aside, the Astros are the product of a major, multi-year rebuild and many of their players are making their first national splash this postseason.

Beyond just the names and resumes, though, the Dodgers and Astros represent a fantastic strategic matchup. The Dodgers attack this postseason has featured admirable plate discipline, with third baseman Justin Turner, right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Chris Taylor all letting balls out of the zone pass them by while abusing pitches left out over the plate. Astros pitchers not named Justin Verlander, however, have lived by getting the opposition to chase bad balls. Game one starter Dallas Keuchel did this by relying on his very fast sinker. Lance McCullers pitched well starting Game 4 of the ALCS and pitched spectacularly closing out the final four innings of Game 7 mostly by virtue of his curveball, which Yankees pitchers could simply not lay off. Indeed, his final 24 pitches of Game 7 were all curves, many of them low and away. Who will give in first in this series?

On the side of things, Dodgers relievers have made a living by pumping in strikes. Particularly strikes high in the zone from Jansen and Brandon Morrow. There may be no better fastball hitter in all of baseball than Jose Altuve, however, and the team as a whole was one of the best in the bigs in dealing with gas in the zone. This was a big reason why the Astros struck out less than any team in baseball this year while simultaneously boasting the best offense in the game. The Dodgers throw strikes. The Astros make you pay when you throw them strikes. Again, something’s gotta give.

Maybe the suits in New York wanted the Yankees and Cubs. But everyone else is getting exactly what we want: a matchup of the two best teams in the game. A matchup of strength against strength. What is, from a purely baseball perspective, the best World Series we could’ve possibly hoped for.