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Braves believe they are armed for run to NL East title
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ATLANTA- Seeing Tom Glavine in the clubhouse made Bobby Cox feel little had changed from the days when the Atlanta Braves always won their division and finished at or near the ERA leaders.
"I saw him and my first thought was that it was the fastest five years that I can remember," Cox said. "It felt like old times."
But those five years Glavine spent with the New York Mets changed the Braves and their once-dominant pitching.
After 14 straight division titles, the Braves have finished third in the NL East two straight years. The bottom of the starting rotation - including Mark Redman, Kyle Davies, Buddy Carlyle, Chuck James and Jo-Jo Reyes - was the team's weak spot last year.
Another sign of a new era in Atlanta: John Schuerholz has moved from general manager to team president, and his successor, Frank Wren, spent the offseason trying to boost the team's starting pitching.
Glavine, eager to spend more time with his family in Atlanta, signed a one-year deal to return to the Braves, where he posted five 20-win seasons from 1987-2002. Wren traded shortstop Edgar Renteria to Detroit for highly regarded right-hander Jair Jurrjens. Mike Hampton, who hasn't pitched in the major leagues since 2005, appears ready to open the season.
The Braves never recovered from the losses of Lance Cormier and Hampton to injuries last spring. Cox says the rotation won't be as vulnerable to an injury and won't have to stick with a struggling pitcher this season.
James, coming off back-to-back 11-win seasons, isn't a lock to open the season in Atlanta. James, Jurrjens, Jeff Bennett and others could be competing for one spot behind Tim Hudson, John Smoltz, Glavine and Hampton - assuming Hampton is ready for the start of the season. Reyes was optioned to Richmond on Saturday.
The Braves' lineup should be strong, but no one suggests that the bats of Jones, Mark Teixeira, Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann can carry the team back to the top of the NL East if the starters falter.
"That was our big problem last year," Jones said. "We couldn't get enough quality innings out of the bottom of our rotation. The health of our 40-somethings, the health of Hampton, those were all big question marks coming into the season.
"If they're not healthy, we're going to really struggle again, but if they are and give us quality innings then we're going to be very competitive."
Hudson and Smoltz were a combined 30-18 last year. The other starters were 28-40.

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