Spring Training 2013: What Atlanta Braves Fans Have to Look Forward to Most
The reason can be summed up in four words:
Pitchers and catchers report.
The mere mentioning of these words is enough to make any baseball fan's heart skip a beat, but for Braves fans 2013 is an especially meaningful season.
The past few years have seen the Braves in the difficult position of having enough talent to compete, but not quite enough to contend.
Since 2005, Atlanta's last division title, the Braves have missed the playoffs five times, lost the NLDS in four games, missed out on the Wild Card on the final day of the 2011 season and in the most recent campaign, lost the NL Wild Card Game to St. Louis, six games Atlanta's inferior (courtesy of Baseball-Reference).
Not since 2001 has Atlanta even advanced to the NLCS (also courtesy of Baseball-Reference).
This offseason, Frank Wren took radical measures to alter the status quo that has dogged Atlanta for the past decade. Controversial as his moves may be, Wren has pushed all of his chips to the middle of the table in order to bring a World Series to the people of Atlanta.
First came the signing of B.J. Upton, a move ensuring the Braves would have an immensely talented veteran in his prime years manning center field at Turner Field for the next five seasons. Although inconsistent, Upton has still been a valuable commodity due to his defense and ability to produce runs, and if he can put all of his talent together, Atlanta could have a superstar on its hands.
The move that really got fans buzzing though was when Wren united the elder Upton with the younger in a move that sent Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, and three other prospects to Arizona. The talent that Justin Upton brings to the fold has been compared to that of Willie Mays and Frank Robinson; as he enters his prime, the Braves could potentially have a perennial MVP threat for at least the next three seasons.
While the Braves bade farewell the legend of Chipper Jones after the close of the 2012 season, the timing seems to finally be right for Atlanta to return to the World Series.
The regrettable losses of Chipper to retirement and Prado to the Diamondbacks could likely have an impact on the intangibles of the club but new leaders will emerge, namely Jason Heyward and Kris Medlen.
After a year stricken with injury, Brian McCann underwent successful shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and is now looking at possibly catching the Braves' opener. A healthy McCann would do wonders for an already powerful lineup and a young pitching staff in search of leadership.
It could also be McCann's final year as a Brave with his impending free agency looming.
Freddie Freeman took steps forward in his sophomore year and is expecting a breakout that would make him one of the most dangerous bats in the National League East.
Andrelton Simmons is already the best defensive shortstop in the majors (according to ESPN's Keith Law) and surprised a lot of people with how well he handled the bat in his rookie year. He'll continue to progress offensively at the leadoff spot in 2013.
An Upton brother would normally be the best outfielder on a club, but not with Heyward in right field. In 2012, Heyward not only bounced back from a subpar 2011 campaign but also re-established himself as a budding superstar and potential MVP candidate very soon.
Medlen has emerged as the staff's ace, but Mike Minor isn't too far behind and Tim Hudson is still in Atlanta (at least for one more year). Behind them, Paul Maholm is solid, Julio Teheran will look to remind Braves fans why they once thought so highly of him, and Brandon Beachy will return after the All-Star Break.
The best bullpen in baseball added to all of this gives Atlanta fans something that they haven't had in years:
Hope for a division title, hope for a World Series berth, hope for a ring.
Finally, Atlanta has a collection of talent that declares "World Series or Bust."
This year, Frank Wren and the Braves are all-in, and they're playing for keeps.
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