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Planned offensive for beefed up Braves

The SportsXchange

The Braves' unprecedented run of 14 consecutive division titles in the 1990s and early 2000s was based on pitching and more pitching. Now they will try a different formula.

After not winning a postseason series since 2001, the Braves will give offense at least equal billing in 2013 and beyond as they try to reclaim their past prominence.

General manager Frank Wren made two big offseason moves, both involving an Upton. He signed free agent B.J. Upton to a five-year deal worth $72.5 million, then acquired younger brother Justin from Arizona in a blockbuster trade.

With the Uptons joining Jason Heyward, the Braves have arguably the best young outfield in the National League and they also have a budding slugger at first base in Freddie Freeman.

The presence of retired future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones will certainly be missed. But now manager Fredi Gonzalez has a power-packed lineup that can match up with anyone in the NL, especially if Brian McCann can bounce back after shoulder surgery.

The pitching staff, meanwhile, also looks solid, with Craig Kimbrel anchoring a deep bullpen and Brandon Beachy expected to give a rotation led by veteran Tim Hudson a boost by midseason after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.

Kris Medlen, who was 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA after joining the rotation last season, and Mike Minor, who also had a strong second half, had some rough starts late in spring training, but the Braves remain confident that neither was a fluke.

The Braves have potential issues defensively at second and third base, but certainly not at shortstop. Andrelton Simmons, entering his first full season, is already as good as anyone.

The Braves won 94 games in 2012 and averaged 90 victories in the past four seasons. But the end results were disappointing, capped with last season's controversial loss to the Cardinals in the NL wild-card game.

Will the offseason changes be enough to beat out the Nationals in the NL East?

"I feel that this is the best team we've had since I've been general manager," said Wren, who took over from John Schuerholz after the 2007 season. "I don't see a big hole.

"It's by far the most athletic team, it has the most speed, it's the most powerful, has the most balance. Now we've got to go play."
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