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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Braves: Likes and dislikes


LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Time to address what I like and don't care for when it comes to the Atlanta Braves.

What I like

 Everyone is talking Phillies pitching, but Atlanta's is very solid. The key is Jair Jurrjens, who was bothered by nagging shoulder, finger, hamstring and knee issues last summer and made only 20 starts. If he pitches like he did in 2009 (14-10, 2.60 ERA over 34 starts), and Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe and Tommy Hanson stay healthy, the Braves will be in contention all year.

 Second baseman Dan Uggla, proud owner of a new five-year, $62 million deal, is a very nice bat to have. Not sure that I agree with new manager Fredi Gonzalez that Uggla could be a Hall of Fame candidate if he plays another 10 years, but the Braves can use his sock.

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 The Braves have several decades of managerial experience on staff. In addition to Bobby Cox, who's serving as an advisor, former big league managers Carlos Tosca, Dave Trembley, Larry Parrish, Jimy Williams and Lee Elia all are in uniform and coaching this spring. "I think experience matters," general manager Frank Wren said. "Having guys like that can only help players. It will be good for Fredi, but it will be more beneficial to the players."

 A handful of players reported in terrific shape this year. Jurrjens lost about 12 pounds -- which will make life easier on the knee and hamstring he hurt last year -- and reliever Peter Moylan dropped 23 pounds. Wren says left fielder Martin Prado is leaner and catcher Brian McCann "looks tremendous. He woke up last August with 50 games to go and told his wife, 'I don't want to feel this way next year.'"

What I don't like

 With Billy Wagner having retired, there is no sure-thing closer and the Braves currently are talking about using both right-hander Craig Kimbrel and lefty Jonny Venters in the ninth. The preference would be to have one guy designated as closer. Both men have closer stuff. It's a question of how things shake out this spring.

 Chipper Jones is 38 and coming off of major knee surgery. All reports have been terrific so far. But you've got to wonder whether he'll avoid the disabled list, either for the knee or something else this year. "What people don't understand is that Hall of Fame players like he is, just their presence in the lineup is important," pitcher Derek Lowe says. "I don't care how he's hitting. When he steps in the box, you think, 'Chipper Jones.' He's so important for us."

 Atlanta must get much more from center fielder Nate McLouth this year (.190 average, .298 on-base percentage in 2010). The Braves don't seem worried, and McLouth is confident he'll be stronger. He's projected to hit second, behind Prado. The Braves will be a better club if they can keep him there.


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