No. 10 Braves: Still good enough to win the NL East

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No. 10 Braves: Still good enough to win the NL East
No. 10 Braves: Still good enough to win the NL East

Editor’s note: Yahoo Sports will rank every team in Major League Baseball from 30th to 1st before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Atlanta Braves.

2013 record: 96-66
Finish: First, NL East
2013 payroll: $95.3 million (16th of 30)
Estimated 2014 opening day payroll: $102.8 million (15th of 30)
Yahoo Sports offseason rank: 10
Braves in six words: Get the ball to Craig Kimbrel.

Baseball turned up the hot stove, and the only real consequence in Atlanta was Chipper Jones’ woods catching fire.

There wasn’t a lot for GM Frank Wren to do, unless he was going to outbid the New York Yankees for catcher Brian McCann (or, for that matter, the San Francisco Giants for Tim Hudson), which wasn’t ever in the Braves’ plans. Just a year ago they moved – and spent – boldly for B.J. Upton and he struck out 151 times in the equivalent of three-quarters of a season. Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel and Jason Heyward are into their arbitration years, and two years remain on Dan Uggla’s contract, and Evan Gattis seemed a reasonable replacement for McCann, so the Braves appeared to happily stand pat on their 96 wins.

They signed Gavin Floyd, who is coming off Tommy John surgery and likely won’t pitch until May or June. By then, he could start or become part of what last season was the best bullpen in the game. And they signed Mat Gamel, a power left-handed bat who always seems a knee or two from his full potential – and a full MLB season.

[Related: No. 11 Yankees: Huge spending spree likely isn't enough ]

In December, they traded for Ryan Doumit, the catcher who suffered a concussion while playing for the Minnesota Twins last summer and didn’t catch a game in September. The Braves seem fairly confident Doumit will continue as a part-time catcher at least, presumably why they traded for him.

Well, 96 wins will get you plenty in this league. For the Braves, it was enough for an NL East title (their first since 2005) and then elimination in the first round. Like old times.

They had their flaws, such as their offense leading the NL in strikeouts (and adding 42 more in a four-game division series). But, they pitched better than anyone, particularly in the later innings, and they scored plenty of runs, primarily because they hit so many home runs.

As a result, they spent all of 24 hours out of first place, buried the favored Washington Nationals, and performed quite adeptly in their first year without Chipper Jones, especially considering how they’d dragged B.J. Upton behind them all season.

Now they consider their first year without McCann, who knew a thing or two about run prevention by both conventional and rather unconventional means. They’ll miss Hudson, as well.

The Braves will be plenty capable, of course, and won’t let go of the NL East easily, if they do at all. The rotation – Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Brandon Beachy and, likely, Alex Wood – is the second-best in the division, behind the Nationals’. It was good enough last season to ensure the bullpen pitched the fewest innings in the NL, another reason it was so effective. And the bullpen was impressive, from ERA (2.46) to batting average against (.222) to save percentage (77 percent – Kimbrel was 50 for 54), and the cast generally will stay the same.

The Braves managed to win all those games while getting very little from Upton and Dan Uggla, who batted .184 and .179 respectively. Neither hit as much as .140 with runners in scoring position. They combined for more than 300 strikeouts. Uggla was left off the postseason roster and Upton was granted three at-bats, all three of which resulted in strikeouts.

So, in an offseason of little change in Atlanta, the difference could be in a bounce-back year by one or both of them. If the Braves must ride Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis and Justin Upton for the bulk of their offense, they’ll still be OK, and they could still contend. It worked in 2013. It just might not be enough this time.

B.J. Upton can’t be that bad, can he?

Forget, for a moment, the contract, the largest-ever for a free-agent player given by the Braves (five years, $75.25 million, of which four years and $59.8 million remain). Forget that he’s always been a little light in batting average and heavy on the whiffs.

The Braves don’t really need a savior. But they could use a happy, healthy, reasonably productive and athletic B.J. Upton, a guy who’s at least good enough to play every day, a guy who doesn’t have to be hidden in the seven or eight hole for weeks on end.

If he wants to be a savior, they would gladly accept. For the moment, however, they’d be pleased if he could be adequate.

With apologies
To Gattis, poor Dan Uggla,
El Oh-fer Blanco

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No. 11 Yankees
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