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The 2013 Atlanta Braves Will Be Better Without Chipper Jones

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COMMENTARY | Living legend, eight-time All-Star, and future Hall of Famer are just a few of the superlatives commonly used to describe former Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones.

So how can anyone try to make the case that losing the only switch-hitter in the history of the game to carry a .300 batting average and hit more than 400 career home runs (something not even Mickey Mantle could boast) will actually make the Atlanta Braves a better team?

No one can diminish the mark Jones made on the game while wearing an Atlanta Braves jersey. The overwhelming outpouring of support from opposing teams and their fans last season said all anyone needs to know about how Chipper will be remembered. That being said, the moves general manager Frank Wren was able to pull off over the winter will simply prove to make the Braves a much-improved ballclub -- even without No. 10's picturesque swing hitting out of the three-hole.

Power

It's hard to knock a guy who still managed to hit .287 at age 40, but Chipper Jones did wear down considerably at the end of the year. From August 1 until the final game of the season, Chipper hit just .244 with 4 home runs and 19 RBIs -- this from the man tasked with hitting third in the order. The 2013 Braves might find more consistent run-producing threats and long-ball power out of the middle of their order.

With the additions of B.J. Upton and Justin Upton to the Atlanta clubhouse, the Braves possess one of the most power-laden lineups in all of baseball. Michael Bourn's nine dingers are now replaced by B.J. Upton's 27. Martin Prado put 10 over the wall, but Justin Upton bested him with 17 round-trippers in 2012. Considering the younger Upton also hit a career-high 31 home runs in 2011, the ceiling on his power is much higher than anywhere Prado could ever dream to reach. Even Chipper Jones' replacement, Chris Johnson, netted one more home run (15) than did the legend who has now abdicated his third-base throne.

As a whole, the 2012 starting lineup gave the Braves 125 long balls, which helped them rank No. 20 in all of baseball. Given last season's stats for the players they brought in during the winter, the Braves would have netted an additional 27 homers, which would have launched them into the top 10 in the league. Atlanta would have subsequently also ranked No. 11 in RBIs, compared to the No. 18 spot the Braves occupied.

Atlanta Braves 2012 Batting Order

1. Michael Bourn, CF

2. Martin Prado, LF

3. Chipper Jones, 3B

4. Freddie Freeman, 1B

5. Jason Heyward, RF

6. Brian McCann, C

7. Dan Uggla, 2B

8. Andrelton Simmons, SS

9. Pitcher's Spot

Projected 2013 Batting Order

1. Andrelton Simmons, SS

2. Jason Heyward, RF

3. Justin Upton, CF

4. Freddie Freeman, 1B

5. B.J. Upton, LF

6. Brian McCann, C

7. Dan Uggla, 2B

8. Chris Johnson, 3B

9. Pitcher's Spot

Consistency

Another factor many people overlook is that the 2013 Atlanta Braves' lineup should have more continuity throughout the season. Chipper played in only 112 of the 162 regular-season games last year. Since manager Fredi Gonzalez had to continuously move Jones in and out of the lineup -- very rarely ever playing him three games in a row -- players were forced to come to work without necessarily knowing what their roles would be from one day to the next.

Given the long 162-game schedule, definitive roles and regular routines can be incredibly important for the day-to-day comfort and success of a player. Barring any unforeseen injuries (knock on wood), Fredi Gonzalez should be able to run roughly the same lineup out there for 150+ games in 2013.

Jones cannot take the blame for all of the consistency issues in 2012. The razor-sharp teeth of the injury bug bit down hard on the Braves' roster last summer. Only five players in total were able to suit up for more than 140 games in 2012 (Jason Heyward, Martin Prado, Michael Bourn, Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla). In contrast, the Upton brothers have averaged 152 games per season over the last two MLB calendars. Assuming Brian McCann is able to come back strong after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum -- and he doesn't inexplicably step on a rake or slip on a loose banana peel in the meantime -- then the Braves could be a much healthier club in 2013.

Chipper Jones had 19 magnificent seasons for the Atlanta Braves, and I am lucky enough to say that I got to see all of them, but now the franchise must continue on without him. Considering the players the Braves are reloading with, the upcoming 2013 season just might have the potential to turn out even better than it did for the majority of the Jones-led teams of the past two decades -- 1995 notwithstanding.

Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter based in "Braves Country." He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.

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