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Jason Heyward Finally Batting .200: Are the Atlanta Braves Now the Team to Beat in the NL?

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COMMENTARY | Shhh! Don't make any sudden movements. Jason Heyward has actually been spotted hitting some of the baseballs that are thrown in his general direction. You have to be very quiet and make sure you don't startle him, and…oh great, look what you did; you just had to get up to get a drink, didn't you? You scared him off. Now there is no telling when he may surface again.

The reclusive bat of the Atlanta Braves' right fielder took a vow of non-violence to start the 2013 season -- at least I'd have to assume based its reluctance to aggressively strike anything. Heyward plodded out of the 2013 gates with a .121 average through the first month of the season. As it turns out, it was his pesky appendix that was weighing him down. No one really knows what this enigmatic organ does, but apparently it's main function is to prevent people from hitting curveballs.

Since returning from his Appendectomy surgery on May 17, Heyward has raised his average 79 points to an even .200. He is also in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak which includes five multi-hit performances.

With Heyward's bat finally awake, the Braves have gone 17-6 since his return to the lineup. Although the month of June in only nine days old, the J-Hey Kid is hitting .345 with an on-base percentage of .367 during this latest section of the calendar.

It may be too early to throw him a parade just yet. While his average is heading north for the summer, his power numbers are still hibernating. Heyward has only one home run and five RBIs in his last 21 games. Some could argue he still needed to build his strength back after undergoing surgery, but he had just two homers and five runs drive in before he went under the knife.

Heyward's 27 round-trippers led the team in 2012, but, even without their most prolific power hitter swinging the big stick this year, the Braves' 85 jacks are still the standard for the entire National League. When Heyward's bat officially returns to form, it has the potential to completely change the dynamic of this Braves' offense. Atlanta is scoring 4.41 runs per games so far in 2013. Heyward being able to get on more consistently ahead of Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann means more scoring opportunities, more potential run support for the pitching staff, which -- hopefully -- will translate to more Ws in the win column.

Heyward on the base path also means the ability for Atlanta to cultivate some easier runs. The Braves have been strictly a station-to-station team this season. They ranked No. 28 in all of baseball with just 19 stolen bases. Heyward -- who swiped 21 bags last season -- has only pilfered one pillow in 2013. Getting a single and a steal from Heyward could be the difference in winning and losing on any given day. It's much easier to put crooked numbers on the board when manager Fredi Gonzalez only has to ask the middle of the order to knock a single to drive in a run. A productive Heyward makes this a more potent offensive unit.

The good news does not stop with Heyward. Dan Uggla is also threatening to crawl out of the MLB sewer and leave the Mario Mendoza Fan Club far behind. He has raised his average to .193 on the strength of a modest four-game hitting streak, during which he has belted three home runs in the last two games. If Uggla could muster a 2-for-3 performance in his next appearance, he too would join Heyward as another recent fugitive on the loose from baseball's jail of imprisoned .100 hitters.

Next up: B.J. Upton. Upton's .158 average has much more work to do, however, his .240 mark for the month of June suggests he too many be ready to break out of his slump. An Atlanta lineup in which Upton, Heyward and Uggla are all hitting at the same time was once thought to be on par with finding the Loche Ness Monster playing hopscotch with Sasquatch.

It is truly remarkable that the Braves have built a giant lead in the NL East while this trio has sputtered. A hot Uggla, Upton and Heyward could also mean the end of the 2003 Atlanta Braves' single-season record of 235 home runs. The 2013 Braves are currently on pace for 219 long balls, so they will need these three to step up in the second half of the season if they truly have designs on renovating the record books.

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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