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What Every Fan Needs to Know About the 2013 Atlanta Braves

Daniel KockContributor IIIJanuary 18, 2013

What Every Fan Needs to Know About the 2013 Atlanta Braves

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    On paper, the Atlanta Braves appear to be a playoff contender once again in 2013.

    Even without Hall of Fame candidate Chipper Jones in the middle of the order, the Braves have enough firepower to make a run.

    However, the Braves also have weaknesses, like every major league team, that will show up this season.

    The key will be to hide those weaknesses and bring out the strengths in order to maximize the results of 2013.

    Here's a look at some of those strengths and weaknesses to help fans learn about the 2013 Atlanta Braves.

1. Strikeouts

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    The Atlanta Braves finished with the fourth-most strikeouts in the National League last season, and that trend will continue.

    Dan Uggla, Michael Bourn, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman all struck out over 100 times in 2012.

    While Bourn is no longer on the Braves, his replacement, B.J. Upton, struck out 169 times last season and has struck out over 150 times in his last six seasons.

    Two possible replacements for Chipper Jones in the starting lineup, Juan Francisco and Evan Gattis, struck out every 2.7 and 6.3 at-bats respectively last season. Both numbers are more than Chipper's 2012 average of every 7.6 at-bats.

    The Braves will kill some rallies this year with strikeouts and will finish near the top of the National League in strikeouts.

2. Growing Pains

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    The pitching rotation in 2013 will most likely feature veterans Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm, along with young pitchers Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran.

    Medlen had a historic run to finish 2012, but has never started more than 14 games in a season. Minor also finished 2012 in dominating fashion, but the 25-year-old has yet to be consistent for an entire season. And while Teheran has incredible stuff and his potential is unlimited, he has pitched just 26 innings at the major league level.

    This leads me to believe there will be growing pains for all three in 2013. They all have impressive stuff and will show why they belong in the rotation, but be prepared for some struggles.

    The key for them will be to limit themselves to one or two bad starts at a time rather than a string of five or six.

3. Range

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    Good luck to opponents who try and get a blooper down in the Braves' outfield in 2013.

    Most teams would be happy with B.J. Upton in center and Jason Heyward in right. Add Martin Prado or bench players Reed Johnson and Jose Costanza in left, and it becomes elite.

    Depending on who becomes the starting left fielder for this team, I expect Johnson and Costanza to get significant playing time in late-game situations. This will give manager Fredi Gonzalez confidence in close games that his outfielders will track down just about any fly ball.

    Over the span of 162 games, that can have a huge impact.

    It's not something that will show up in the box scores, but the range of the outfielders for the Braves will win them some games.

4. Heat

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    Arguably, the backbone of the Braves in 2012 was their dominant bullpen, and it will be a major strength this season.

    Not only is the bullpen one of the best in the game, but it can light up the radar.

    Everything begins with closer Craig Kimbrel, who struck out 116 batters while posting a ridiculous 1.01 ERA. Kimbrel easily hits mid-90s with his fastball and will hit upper-90s when he rears back.

    Then there are the two left-handed hurlers in Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters.

    Venters had somewhat of a down year in 2012, but still posted a 3.22 ERA and has one of the nastiest pitches in the game. His sinker sits around 95 mph and runs toward left-handed hitters and away from right-handed hitters. O'Flaherty, meanwhile, just quietly goes about his business, posting a 1.73 ERA and shutting down left-handed hitters.

    Now, the Braves have another right-handed fire-baller in Jordan Walden.

    Walden was acquired for Tommy Hanson this offseason to give the Braves another power arm in the bullpen.

    His 98 mph fastball fits the bill.

5. Glue

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    Every year, Martin Prado's role on the Braves seems to expand. He served as the everyday left-fielder in 2012, but also played every infield position and still managed to hit over .300.

    His versatility gave the Braves flexibility this offseason to pursue an outfielder or third baseman. They have yet to acquire either and may let spring training play out to see who will be the primary starter.

    This leaves Prado in limbo as to where he'll be playing and hitting in the lineup.

    At this point, it looks like Prado may be thrown into the leadoff role, which is something he can do, but it isn't his natural No. 2 spot.

    The Braves ask a lot from Prado, and this will be the case in 2013.

    For the Braves to be successful, he will have to excel in the field wherever he plays while also being the consistent threat at the plate. His ability to hit to all fields, get on base consistently and execute situational hitting makes him a huge part of the offense and the glue guy of the Braves.

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