5 questions for 2008

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How many games does Chipper Jones have to play to call the year a success?

Probably between 140 to 150. Jones played in 134 games last season -- his most since 2004 -- and hit .337 with 29 home runs and 102 RBI. Before suffering a series of injuries, Jones averaged 155 games per season; the past four years he's averaged 122. His leadership cannot be replaced and if he avoids the injury bug this season, hitting in front of first baseman Mark Teixeira will only make him better.

How will the loss of Andruw Jones affect the team?

Power-wise, the Braves still have one of the strongest lineups in the National League. Defensively, they lose a lot. Jones committed 38 errors in 1,708 games as Atlanta's center fielder. He won his 10th consecutive Gold Glove last season. The only outfielders with longer streaks? Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente won 12 in a row.

Mark Kotsay will start in center, and while he has great range, he does not possess the same kind of arm strength as Jones.

How will the rotation hold up?

As spring training drew to a close, questions about John Smoltz's health came to light. He'll start the year on the disabled list but will be eligible to come off April 6.

Tim Hudson will start the season opener tonight. Jair Jurrjens showed everyone why Atlanta was willing to part with Edgar Renteria. The team will be able to count on Tom Glavine. The biggest question is whether former 20-game winner Mike Hampton can stay healthy.

Can Yunel Escobar fill Renteria's shoes at shortstop?

Yes. Why else would Atlanta have traded away a five-time All-Star?

Besides being seven years younger than Renteria, Escobar can play three positions, displayed patience beyond his years at the plate last year and covered a little bit more ground in the field.

He played lights out this spring and there's no reason to believe he will slow down once the season starts.

How will Rafael Soriano do as the team's closer?

Much better than the Bob Wickman experiment last season.

Soriano has a livelier fastball that can set up his slider. He is entering the season as a team's closer for the first time, but his performance over the last two months of 2007 should put the Braves at ease.

In 23 appearances, he gave up six earned runs while going 1-1 with four saves.


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