Uptons' arrival boosts Braves' optimism

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

The Atlanta Braves are looking ahead, not back. In the process, they hope to match at least some of their success from the 1990s and early 2000s.
Gone is the retired Chipper Jones, part of the Braves' record streak of 14 consecutive division titles. Added are the brothers Upton, Justin and B.J.
The Uptons -- along with other young budding stars such as Craig Kimbrel, Kris Medlen, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman -- give the Braves a bright future. The present should be too bad, either.
"I'm really excited about the team, more excited than I've ever been about a team going to spring training," manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
"Where we sit today, we like our club a lot," general manager Frank Wren said. "Now we've got to go perform."
The Braves have mostly disappointed their fans recently. They were the victims of a controversial infield-fly call in the National League wild-card game against the Cardinals last year, and they haven't taken a postseason series since 2001.
The Braves, though, won 94 games in 2012 and averaged 90 victories the past four seasons. They did that mostly thanks to their pitching. Now they think they have the hitting as well.
Strikeouts could again be a problem, but the Braves feel that they have a combination of power and speed that few teams can match if their young players continue to improve and if catcher Brian McCann can bounce back from a sub-par season after shoulder surgery.
The bullpen, led by flame-throwing closer Kimbrel, is one of the best in baseball, and the starting staff should get a boost in the second half when Brandon Beachy returns after Tommy John surgery. Even without Beachy, the rotation -- led by Tim Hudson -- could be solid if Medlen, 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA as a starter last season, continues to progress and Mike Minor can build off his impressive final month in 2012.
The Braves don't have many decisions to make in spring training. Catching the Nationals in the NL East in 2013 won't be easy, though.

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