If you had told me five months ago that Derek Lowe (RHP, Braves) was going to be the 2010 opening day starter for the Atlanta Braves, I would have enjoyed a hearty laugh at your expense. Javier Vazquez and Tommy Hanson were easily the Braves' best pitchers in 2009 while Derek Lowe fell well short of the expectations set by his $60 million contract and seemed a safe bet to be traded. My, how things have changed.
Since Javier Vazquez was traded to the Yankees, Derek Lowe has gone from clubhouse pariah to number one starter. The Braves' newfound confidence in Lowe was buoyed by a dominant spring (18K/2BB in 22 IP), and Lowe will need to build on that success to regain his 2008 form.
In 2009, Lowe struck out more than a batter fewer per nine innings (5.13) and walked more than one additional batter (2.91) than in his last year as a Dodger. His groundball rate also dipped from 60% to 56%. A strong debut against the Cubs would go a long way toward alleviating some of the buyer's remorse that Frank Wren and the Braves were feeling this offseason.
This is how the Cubs' opening day lineup has fared against RHPs:
(SS) Ryan Theriot: .283/.347/.351
(RF) Kosuke Fukudome: .262/.372/.417
(1B) Derrek Lee: .285/.364/.505
(3B) Aramis Ramirez: .284/.341/.493
(CF) Marlon Byrd: .282/.342/.416
(LF) Alfonso Soriano: .278/.320/.508
(2B) Mike Fontenot: .272/.348/.435
(C) Geovany Soto: .257/.338/.456
(P) Carlos Zambrano: .220/.226/.367
Any time Derek Lowe takes the mound, there are going to be more than a few balls put in play. The Braves finished 22nd in UZR for 2009 and firgure to be about the same or slightly better in 2010. The Braves' infield defense will likely be a bit worse in 2010, with Troy Glaus replacing the league average defensive combo of Casey Kotchman and Adam LaRoche while Chipper Jones' defensive prowess continues to deteriorate with ever-advancing age. The outfield should be improved with Melky Cabrera and Jason Heyward replacing Garret Anderson, Ryan Church, and Jeff Francoeur. The outfield defense could be further improved by moving Melky to center and Mclouth to left, but that's a topic for another day.