2013 will be the first year since 1993 that someone other than #10 will occupy third base for the Atlanta Braves. This year’s offseason was one of the most exciting in Atlanta Braves history, and it makes last year’s “infield fly debacle” hurt a little less. Due to the Upton family reunion and a bounce back year from Jason Heyward, the Braves will look to have one of the most electric outfields in the major leagues. In 2012, the Braves went 94-68, finishing second behind the Washington Nationals in the National League East and capturing one of the two wild card spots. In 2013, the Braves look to dethrone the N.L. East champions and avoid the dangerous play-in Wild Card game that bounced them out of last year’s playoffs. Many people think the Upton brothers put the Braves over the hump, but they still have some questions to answer before opening day.
Spring Training Battles
Juan Francisco vs Chris Johnson – 3B
Both guys are hitting the cover off the ball and will likely platoon at third base.
Jordan Schafer vs. Jose Constanza – 5th Outfielder
With Constanza arriving late to Spring Training, and Schafer being out of options, Schafer should be able to take the fifth outfielder spot behind Reed Johnson.
Julio Teheran vs. the field – 5th spot in rotation
Teheran has dominated in Spring Training, pitching two 6-inning games of no-hit baseball. Teheran has electric stuff and it should be fun watching his talent progress through the season.
The lineup will look better with the return of catcher Brian McCann, but will still be feared without him. It will be interesting to watch how the team speed will affect opposing pitchers. The young phenom Andrelton Simmons isn’t a true leadoff hitter, but is the most suited for the job. Will the youngster be able to stay patience and raise his on-base percentage? Only time will tell.
1) Andrelton Simmons SS
2) Jason Heyward RF
3) Freddie Freeman 1B
4) Justin Upton LF
5) B.J. Upton CF
6) Dan Uggla 2B
7) Chris Johnson/Juan Francisco 3B
8 ) Gerald Laird C (McCann hurt)
Manager Fredi Gonzalez hasn’t announced his opening day starter, but It will most likely be the crafty veteran Tim Hudson. Julio Teheran has made the fifth starter decision fairly easy with his Spring Training dominance. It will be interesting to see if Kris Medlen can repeat his phenomenal 2012 season.
1) Tim Hudson
2) Kris Medlen
3) Mike Minor
4) Paul Maholm
5) Julio Teheran
*Brandon Beachy is coming back from Tommy John surgery and will likely be back mid-season.
The biggest strength of the Braves is their bullpen. Some experts say that the Braves have the best bullpen in the Majors. It never hurts to have the best closer in the game getting backed up by guys like Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty.
C - Craig Kimbrel
SU - Jonny Venters
SU - Eric O’Flaherty
L - Luis Avilan
R - Jordan Walden
Long man - Cristhian Martinez
Can Brian McCann rebound?
Brian McCann experienced career lows in batting average (.230) and RBIs (67) in 2012. Some blame his poor performance on his injury, but others question whether he can get back to All-Star form. Progressing steadily with his shoulder rehab, McCann looks like he will be ready to play in late April.
Will Dan Uggla regain his form?
Over the last two years, Dan Uggla has been the Braves’ least consistent player. Uggla has seen his batting average take a steady dive from year to year. In 2010, with the Florida Marlins, Uggla batted .287 with 33 homers. Since then, he hasn’t hit over .233. Last year, he saw his average dip to .220. The Braves are hoping somehow Uggla can regain his form and prove he’s worth his 5-year, $62 million contract.
A surplus of strikeouts?
Power and strikeouts go hand in hand, and the Braves’ projected lineup will provide both in 2013. The question is will Atlanta’s speed counter the high percentage of strikeouts? Braves’ fans will likely have to live with home runs, steals, and lots of strikeouts.
Before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012, Brandon Beachy posted a 5-5 record with a 2.00 ERA. The combination of his sneaky four-seem fastball and his nasty breaking ball places Beachy in the top tier of pitchers, but will he be able to comeback from Tommy John surgery? Some guys come back stronger, and others can’t seem to ever get it back. How will Brandon Beachy respond? If he can perform as he did a year ago, the Braves will have great depth in the starting rotation.
How will the loss of Prado and Jones affect the Braves?
It’s tough to say the team is better when you lose the leader in your clubhouse and on the field. Though he was an aging Chipper Jones, he was still Chipper Jones. His presence in the lineup was invaluable. We forget the importance of the ability to pencil #10 in the three-spot of the lineup day in and day out. Who will fill that hole? Justin Upton? Freddie Freeman?
Losing Martin Prado means you lose versatility. Martin Prado is the definition of a baseball player, a hard-nosed player who comes to play everyday, no matter what position. There is a reason he was a fan favorite and will be greatly missed by Braves’ fans. Atlanta won’t have the ability to put a reliable player in left field one day, and that same player at third base the next. Who will step up and show the ability to excel at different positions? Will it be Tyler Pastornicky? Ramiro Pena? Will it be anyone at all?
The Braves have a rough road ahead, having to battle the reigning N.L. East champion Nationals and the fighting Phillies for the division crown.
Washington Nationals 96-66 (N.L. East)
Atlanta Braves 94-68 (Wild Card)
Philadelphia Phillies 90-72 (Wild Card)
New York Mets 82-80
Miami Marlins 62-100
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