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Braves hope Uptons will key success

March 26, 2013; Lakeland, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves center fielder B.J. Upton (middle) laughs with left fielder Justin Upton (8)  prior to the game against the Detroit Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

March 26, 2013; Lakeland, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves center fielder B.J. Upton (middle) laughs with left fielder Justin Upton (8) prior to the game against the Detroit Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Former manager Bobby Cox stopped by often during spring training and the Braves brought back a parade of guest instructors, including Chipper Jones.

There was no question, though, that these are the new Braves. It's hoped the only similarity a return to the franchise's success in the 1990s and early 2000s.

The teams that won an unprecedented 14 consecutive division titles featured pitching and more pitching.

Now the Braves are trying a new approach.

The 2013 edition, which will debut for keeps on Monday night against Philadelphia at Turner Field, will try to out-hit opponents just as much as out-pitch them.

"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. "Now we've got to go out and play."

The Braves may have a Big Three again, but it isn't a trio of pitchers like Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. That is so yesterday.

Now the Big Three is the team's outfield -- Justin Upton in left, B.J. Upton in center and Jason Heyward in right.

"I feel with the extra push from each other there's no question we can be the best outfield in baseball," Justin Upton said

Wren traded for Justin and signed B.J. as a free agent to team with Heyward. How they perform will likely determine how the Braves do this season and in the future.

"I don't know of anybody who has had the combination of speed, power and all of the things these three kids can do," legendary Braves outfielder and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron said during a visit to spring training.

Add in first baseman Freddie Freeman and it is the Braves' young and revised lineup that everyone is taking about.

The Braves slugged their way to a 20-15 spring record -- the best among National League teams in spring training. Wren was pleased with what he saw.

"It think it's by far the most athletic and most balanced," the GM said of his team. "There is speed and power. I think that there are a lot of things to like. I don't see a major hole."

It was pitching that carried the Braves to 94 wins and a spot in the National League wild-card game last season and the staff looks strong again.

That the pitchers are being overshadowed shows the excitement about the revived lineup.

Julio Teheran showed he was ready to move into the rotation with a dominant spring and the bullpen should have enough depth to cover for a potential loss of Jonny Venters because of elbow issues.

The Braves will give one nod to the past by starting veteran Tim Hudson in the opener against the Phillies instead of Kris Medlen, who was 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA after moving into the rotation last seasons.

"I feel like we're going to be really good," said Hudson, who is three victories short of 200. "A lot of people are considering our bullpen to be our strength. But I feel like our rotation is a little overlooked and has the potential to be a strong part of our team."

The real strength in 2013, though, should be the retooled offense. The Braves will likely strike out a lot, but they should also hit a lot of homers and score a lot of runs.

"The Uptons are dynamic players," Wren said. "You don't usually get an opportunity to add talent like that."

No one questions the brothers' potential. Now they have to live up to it fully.

The Braves think the two will feed off each other. Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., who played with his brother Billy on the Orioles, agrees.

"I think there could be some inter-team competition with them, which I think will be really healthy," Ripken said.

Then you can throw Heyward into the dynamic mix.

"We're all pretty motivated already individually," he said.

The Braves lineup will be missing Brian McCann for the first month or so as he comes back for shoulder surgery and should kick into gear fully when he returns.

"I think our lineup is going to be really, really good," Hudson said. "From top to bottom, there is not a guy you can take a breath on."

The Braves will certainly miss the presence of retired future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones, but it will be an opportunity for new clubhouse leaders to emerge.

Meanwhile, the pressure will be on manager Fredi Gonzalez. The Braves let a playoff berth slip away in 2011 and lost the wild-card game to St. Louis last year.Gonzalez knows the expectations are high. He doesn't shy away from them.

"This is a good team," the manager said. "Let's go play and see what happens."

Comments

DonPedro_SanGomez_de_Martinez 1 year, 6 months ago

PLAY BALL!!

I'm predicting 99 wins this year.

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