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Atlanta Braves: How Does the 2013 Team Compare with Last Season's Club?

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COMMENTARY |The 2012 Atlanta Braves' season ended with a disappointing 5-3 defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals -- and a very questionable infield-fly call -- in the first ever wildcard play-in game. Chipper Jones retired, but the Braves reloaded with Justin Upton and B.J. Upton and are now poised to make another postseason push.

How does the Braves' 2013 season compare with last year's team through the first 81 games?

Records

At the halfway point last season, the Braves had accumulated a recorded of 42-39 but ranked No. 3 in the NL East behind both the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets. Instead of trailing in the division by six games as they were at this point last season, the Braves are 47-34 and have jumped out to a commanding 6 ½ game lead -- largest divisional lead of any first-place team in baseball. Despite their better record after 81 games, Atlanta is only on pace to tie their 2012 win total of 94.

A big difference between this year and last is in the Braves' head-to-head matchups with the Nationals. Atlanta is 7-3 against Washington this season, whereas they were just 2-6 at the same point in 2012. The Braves will face their would-be rivals nine more times after the break -- six of those games being held in Washington.

Team Makeup

These two teams could not be more polar opposite or each other. This year's Braves team is built around pitching and hitting the home run. The 2012 clubs was a more balanced team, but lacked the top-to-bottom power and consistent pitching the Braves enjoy now.

It may surprise some, given that the Brave rank No. 2 in home runs in the National League (98), but the 2012 Braves actually scored more runs than this year's club. The 369 times they crossed the plate through 81 games last season is 29 more than this year. However, the biggest disparity between these two clubs can be seen by examining the 72 fewer runs the pitching staff has allowed in 2013. It is clear that wherever the Braves end up going this season, it will be the pitching staff that leads them.

Individual Performances

Looking at these two offenses on paper may sway the vote in favor or last year's club. The Braves had three hitters (Chipper, Martin Prado and Michael Bourn) batting over .300, while Jason Heyward was clubbing a very respectable .270. This season, six of the eight Atlanta starters are hitting below .250, including B.J. Upton's MLB-worst .178 average.

Although the 2012 team did have some notorious free swingers, the 2013 team is in a class all their own when it comes to striking out. Through 81 games last season, Chipper and Prado had only 55 strikeouts combined. Compared with the 173 strikeouts the Upton brothers have totaled in the latest campaign, it becomes clear as to exactly what the Braves gained and lost between this year and last.

Best Performer

2013 - Freddie Freeman - .305, 8 HR, 50 RBIs

2012 - Michael Bourn - .310, 7 HR, 39 RBIs, 23 SB

Pitching Staff

The pitching is where the 2013 team has the clear advantage. The Atlanta staff ranks No. 2 in all of baseball (3.20ERA), and the Braves currently have three hurlers (Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Terhan) with ERAs of 3.12 or better.

Aside from Brandon Beachy and Paul Maholm, who each only played a portion of the 2012 season, the next best Braves starter was Tommy Hanson's 3.70 ERA at this point. Minor's progress this season is also highlighted even further if we consider the 4-6 record and 6.20 ERA he accumulated through 81 games a season ago. There is no question; the 2012 starting staff gets the edge in this category.

Regardless of the record comparison, or the unfortunate outcome of last season, is the current team better or worse than the 2012 Braves?

Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.

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