Chopcast: Can bullpen meet expectations?

Last season, the Braves bullpen ranked as one of the best in baseball, featuring talented arms and one of the game’s elite closers.

After the Tommy Hanson trade, which brought over strong-armed reliever Jordan Walden from the Angels, the late innings look to be in good hands this season in Atlanta. Adding Walden to the depth chart of Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craiig Kimbrel — among others — the Braves are feeling very confident in holding leads heading into sting training.

Pitchers and catchers are packing their bags and getting ready to head down to the Wide World of Sports next week, so the Chopcast gathered to discuss one last position group of the season preview series: The bullpen.

Here are some of the highlights (and be sure to subscribe on iTunes):

— 1:25: Let’s just cut to the chase: Is Kimbrel the best closer in baseball? After posting a season in which he saved 42 games and struck out more than half the batters he faced, how much better can the 24-year-old closer really be in 2013?

— 6:04: If Kimbrel stays healthy, will he be up for Hall of Fame consideration? The early numbers are (obviously) there, but it takes a long, healthy career — See: Rivera, Mariano — and closers are not known for their longevity. Also, how big of a payday might Kimbrel be demanding in the next few years?

— 8:40: What does the addition of Walden do for the Braves? The right-hander pitched 39 innings for the Angels last season and posted impressive strikeout-to-walk ratios, so where does he fit into Fredi Gonzalez’s equation?

— 10:40: Did the Braves get enough in the Tommy Hanson trade?

— 15:30: Amidst the brilliance of Kimbrel and the attention to the incoming Walden, Braves lefties Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters still provide plenty of innings and options for Gonzalez. Did Venters really have a down year in 2013, and how much better can he be?

— 17:45: How might Brandon Beachy’s return from Tommy John surgery in mid-June shake up the bullpen?

— 22:00: A League of Their Own reference — high fastballs.

— 22:45: Yes or No: Is the Braves bullpen the best in baseball?

— 25:44: With less than six days until pitchers and catchers report, it’s almost time to ditch preview mode and start talking actual, on-the-field baseball in the Florida sunshine. Can’t wait.

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