The Braves haven't won a division title since 2005 or a playoff series since 2001. Will this be the year that frustration ends?
Washington remains a tough team to beat in the National League East, but most observers in spring training felt that the Braves were the best team in the majors not to be a division favorite.
Even without retired future Hall of Fame 3B Chipper Jones, the Braves feel that they will score more runs than in 2012, when they finished four games behind the Nationals and were beaten by St. Louis in the wild-card game.
Pitching should complement the power-packed rebuilt offense, with the bullpen again one of the best despite concerns about Jonny Venters' elbow.
Here is a team breakdown going into the 2013 season:
1. RHP Tim Hudson
2. LHP Paul Maholm
3. RHP Kris Medlen
4. LHP Mike Minor
5. RHP Julio Teheran
Kris Medlen was 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA after joining the rotation last season and this season's newcomer may also have a major impact. Rookie Julio Teheran, 22, was one of the more impressive pitchers in Florida this spring, turning in no-hit outings of five and six innings while posting a 1.04 ERA. His upside is much more than as a fifth starter.
Tim Hudson is just three wins short of 200 for his career and he will get the Opening Day start. The Braves will alternate righties and lefties at the top of the rotation, with Paul Maholm following Hudson and Mike Minor starting after Medlen.
The rotation should get a midseason boost with the return of RHP Brandon Beachy, who was leading major league starters with a 2.00 ERA when he had to have Tommy John surgery late last June. He should be back before the All-Star break.
RHP Craig Kimbrel (closer)
LHP Eric O'Flaherty
RHP Jordan Walden
LHP Luis Avilan
RHP Cory Gearrin
RHP Cristhian Martinez
RHP Anthony Vavaro
Craig Kimbrel, who put up unprecedented strikeout numbers last year while holding opponents to a .128 average, has staked his claim to be being the best young closer in baseball and the Braves bullpen as a whole may also be No. 1. Kimbrel struck out 116 and allowed only 27 hits over 62 innings in 2012 while saving 42 games in 45 opportunities.
The Braves feel that they have the seventh and eighth innings covered as well, even though Jonny Venters' elbow is a concern. He will start the season on the DL. Jordan Walden, acquired from the Angels in a trade for RHP Tommy Hanson, joins Eric O'Flaherty, who had a 1.31 ERA over the past two seasons. Luis Avilan gives the bullpen two lefties even without Venters.
1. SS Andrelton Simmons
2. RF Jason Heyward
3. LF Justin Upton
4. 1B Freddie Freeman
5. CF B.J. Upton
6. 3B Juan Francisco/Chris Johnson
7. 2B Dan Uggla
8. C Gerald Laird
The Braves are no longer at a disadvantage against left-handed pitching with the addition of Justin and B.J. Upton and manager Fredi Gonzalez is now able to alternate right-handed and left-handed hitters through the lineup.
The team doesn't have a base-stealing threat to replace Michael Bourn. But the overall speed is better and the power potential greatly enhanced, especially if catcher Brian McCann gets back to form after shoulder surgery. He will miss most of the first month.
Andrelton Simmons looks capable of handling the leadoff role despite just 49 games of major league experience and Freddie Freeman could have a breakout year in the cleanup spot. Simmons showed his potential in the WBC and Freeman was among the home run leaders in the Grapefruit League.
Both Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson hit well during spring training and will share third base in a modified platoon arrangement. Francisco hits left-handed and Johnson right-handed.
C Paul Gattis
INF Ramiro Pena
OF Reed Johnson
OF Jordan Schafer
Gattis, who has played just 49 games above Class A despite being 26, had a banner spring at the plate and showed the Braves that he could handle catching duties despite some concerns going into camp. He gives the team an option behind veteran Gerald Laird until Brian McCann makes it back from shoulder surgery, probably in late April.
Johnson led the major in pinch hits with 18 last season and batted .419 in that role. Jordan Schafer, who rejoined the Braves off waivers from the Astros, took the lead for the spot as the fifth outfielder when Jose Constanza was late making it to Florida because of visa issues in the Dominican Republic.
Ramiro Pena, formerly of the Yankees, is a switch-hitter who can play second and third base in addition to shortstop.
-- C Brian McCann (right shoulder surgery in October 2012) had a frayed labrum repaired and a cyst removed. He won't be cleared for a minor league rehab until at least April 16 and will likely miss most of the first month.
-- LHP Jonny Venters (left elbow) had to leave a game against the Tigers last Tuesday because of what was called a sprained elbow and will start the season on the DL. He was to see Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday.
-- RHP Brandon Beachy (Tommy John surgery in June 2012) hopes to be ready to return to the rotation by late June. He has had no setbacks and will likely begin a minor league rehab in late May.
-- SS Paul Janish (left shoulder surgery in October 2012) will begin a minor league rehab around April 8. He didn't get into any spring game action only because he wasn't allowed to dive.