Chipper Jones has spent his entire career compiling his Hall of Fame credentials with the Braves. The veteran third baseman experienced a World Series title during his rookie season in 1995 and celebrated division titles at the end of each of his first full 11 seasons at the Major League level.
The Braves have missed the playoffs each of the past four seasons, and as Jones and his teammates prepare for 2010, they are motivated to ensure that Bobby Cox's final season proves to be a memorable one.
Jones won his first career batting title in 2008 and then hit just .264 last year. As he aims for a rebound season, he is excited to see what Jason Heyward can bring during his first Major League season, and encouraged by his belief that this is one of the deepest clubs he has been a part of in recent memory.
MLB.com recently caught up with Jones to discuss his expectations and thoughts heading into the season.
MLB.com: What are your expectations entering this upcoming season?
Jones: I'm hoping we are able to make a natural progression after last year and make that next step into contention in the National League East and hopefully throw our name in the mix, as far as the playoffs.
MLB.com: You went to the postseason during each of your first 11 full Major League seasons. Does it feel like it's been five years since you competed in the playoffs?
Jones: No, it doesn't. We could go this year and I wouldn't feel like we skipped a beat. All good things must come to an end. Our reign over one division is unprecedented. We did it, and now the names on the back of the jerseys are different. But we've made adjustments. We're getting back to the way we were, which is winning with pitching. I look for us to continue to make positive steps toward the top of the National League East.
MLB.com: What do you think this team is capable of doing this year?
Jones: I think we're very capable of winning 90 games. If we play extremely well, we can win more. If we get hurt and don't play well, we won't. That's the bottom line. The capabilities are there. All you ask for coming out of Spring Training is a chance, and we've got that chance.
MLB.com: Does this team have the pitching staff that could carry you toward October?
Jones: A lot depends on Derek Lowe bouncing back and having a healthy Tim Hudson all year. You expect [Jair] Jurrjens and [Tommy] Hanson to kind of take their natural progressions upward, and KK [Kenshin Kawakam] has pitched awfully well down here. So, there's a lot to be excited about. While I don't want to put any pressure on guys by putting a number on their success this summer, I'd say that if they go to the post every fifth day, stay healthy and keep us in the ballgame, I like our chances.
MLB.com: The Braves signed Troy Glaus to satisfy your request to have a power-hitting right-handed hitter behind you. How strong will the middle of the lineup be with you, Glaus and Brian McCann?
Jones: There will be some tough outs in the middle of the lineup The thing that excites me most about this club is that, 1-8, we can swing it. We don't have any givens or no bona fide outs in our lineup like we did at the beginning of last year. Pitchers are going to have to work to shut us down.
MLB.com: You endured one of the toughest years of your career last year and spent the offseason working on the mechanics of your swing. How do you feel entering the season?
Jones: I feel pretty good. I've gotten out of Spring Training what I wanted to get. I didn't want to come down to Spring Training and be overmatched. I haven't been up to this point, and I've gotten some good results. I've stayed healthy. So, that's about all I can ask for.
SHAPING UP THE SCHEDULE
Early schedule The Braves will enjoy Opening Day at home for the first time since 2004 and then after completing a three-game series against the Cubs, they will have to quickly adjust their bodies for a six-game trip to the West Coast that pits them against the Giants and Padres. They will then be immediately challenged by a six-game homestand that pits them against the Rockies and Phillies.
Interleague Play at Twins June, 11-13; vs. Rays, June 15-17; vs. KC, June 18-20; at White Sox, June 22-24; vs. Tigers. June 25-27.
Key home dates:
July 2-4: vs. Marlins
Sept. 9-12: vs. Cardinals
Oct. 1-3: vs. Phillies
MLB.com: What can Jason Heyward do for this lineup, and is he one of the best prospects you've ever seen?
Jones: He's certainly one of them. Obviously, not having played a Major League game, there's still some things that he has to prove to myself and the rest of the team. But he's certainly proven to be as advertised, and as capable as anybody I've ever seen. I'd be very shocked if he doesn't make an impact during this season.
MLB.com: Do you agree with your teammates who are saying there is better camaraderie around the clubhouse this year?
Jones: We're close. It's a great group of guys. We're close-knit and we all hang out. The 25-man roster might not be sexy, but it's solid. When you look 1-25, this is about as solid of a team as we've put together in quite some time.
MLB.com: Do you also agree that this team seems to have the depth that it has lacked during recent years?
Jones: We've got depth and we've got versatility. You've got guys who could step in if somebody gets hurt and play for an extended period of time -- and you don't miss a beat. There are a couple guys in our lineup that we can't afford to lose, but there are guys who are on the bench who are ready to step in and fill their shoes capably.
MLB.com: Will you be motivated by the fact that this is Bobby Cox's last year as your manager?
Jones: It certainly adds to the motivation. We don't think about it much right now, but I think come stretch-run time, in August or September, I think it will start moving up in our minds. I think if we were to get tired during the course of the summer, certainly with this being Bobby's last season, I think it could probably add some motivation to some guys to go out and lay it on the line for him.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.