Did Justin Upton Have the Best April in Atlanta Braves History?
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Slugging his way to the major league lead in home runs, Upton has established himself as a early candidate for National League MVP. In doing so, he put together one of the best April stat lines of any Braves player since the club relocated from Milwaukee, prior to the 1966 season.
Initially, it seemed that Upton had to be putting together the best April ever by an Atlanta player.
After all, there was not an abundance of Braves hitters in recent memory who were leading the majors in home runs and slugging percentage, while powering the offense of a first place club.
After doing some research for this historical perspective, it became clear that Upton's month is special.
It also became evident that quite a few other Braves have put up gaudy numbers in April. One of those men is in the Hall of Fame and a couple of others could join him.
This slideshow takes a look at some of the best offensive April performances in Atlanta history. Rather than rank the individuals out of context, their seasons are placed in chronological order.
Which player had the best April in Atlanta Braves franchise history?
I leave you to decide.
Hank Aaron: 1970
Hank Aaron was closing in on 3,000 career hits early in 1970.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Aaron was closing in on 3,000 hits and 600 home runs by the time the 1970 season rolled around, his 17th in the league.
The 1969 Atlanta Braves were the NL West division winners, but fell to the "Miracle Mets" in the NLCS.
That proved to be the last time Aaron reached the playoffs in his illustrious career.
Whether the Braves were at the top of the standings or cellar dwellers, Aaron's consistently outstanding play was always on display. On his way to a 38-homer campaign, Aaron cranked eight of those in April of 1970. He also drove in 21 runs in just 20 games.
Though many prototypical sluggers are known for high strikeout rates, Aaron never fell into the category of "prototypical" in any sense of the word. He fanned just eight times in April of 1970 and concluded his 23-year career never having struck out 100 or more times in a season.
Hank Aaron's April 1970 statistics:
|20||80||21||27||2 ||0||8||21||1 ||11|| 8 ||.338||.418||.663||1.080|
Dale Murphy: 1983 & 1985
Dale Murphy won his second straight NL MVP Award in 1983.
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Dale Murphy was the face of the Atlanta Braves during a time in which the club struggled to gain respectability. Despite the national exposure provided by TBS, Atlanta routinely faltered in the standings.
That television platform may have come with a "lovable losers" tag, but Murphy was busy establishing himself as one of the premier players in all of baseball.
That reputation was solidified by back-to-back NL MVP awards in 1982 and 1983.
Perhaps building on the momentum of Atlanta's 1982 NL West title, Murphy exploded out of the gate in 1983 with a fast start that helped him repeat as the league's top player.
Seven of his eight extra-base hits in April left the park, while he reached base at a staggering .469 rate.
Dale Murphy's April 1983 statistics:
|19||66||16||23|| 1 ||0||7||21|| 2 ||15|| 11 ||.348||.469||.682||1.151|
While that 1983 performance was certainly superb, the numbers he piled up in April of 1985 may have been his best work in any single month of his career.
Despite playing just 19 contests, Murphy amassed 29 RBI by the end of the opening month that season. He banged out 17 extra-base hits and scored 17 runs as well.
Murphy did all of this while hitting at a .380 clip and making a case for his third MVP trophy.
Dale Murphy's April 1985 statistics:
|19||71||17||27|| 8 ||0||9||29|| 0 ||10|| 13 ||.380||.451||.873||1.324|
Ryan Klesko: 1996
Ryan Klesko belted 10 of his 34 homers in 1996 in April.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Outfielder Ryan Klesko enjoyed a career-best 34 home runs in 1996 as the Braves made their fourth trip to the World Series in a six-year span.
He opened the season with a bang, belting a two-run homer in his first at-bat of an eventual 10-8 Atlanta victory over the San Diego Padres. Klesko drove in four of those runs, and began his impressive run toward a career year.
By the time the month was over, Klesko had established a new Atlanta record of 10 home runs in the month of April. It was a mark he would share until 2013.
Ryan Klesko's April 1996 statistics:
Andres Galarraga: 1998 & 2000
Andres Galarraga beat cancer and returned in 2000.
Tom Hauck/Getty Images
Andres Galarraga joined Atlanta after enjoying a career renaissance with the Colorado Rockies from 1993-1997. The "Big Cat" was expected to bring his big bat and smooth glove to the Braves and provide consistent power in the middle of the order after Fred McGriff's departure.
He got off to a booming start in his first month on the job, belting 10 home runs and driving in 25 runs on his way to an All-Star selection and a Top 10 finish in NL MVP voting in 1998.
Those 10 April homers tied Klesko's opening month record.
Andres Galarraga's April 1998 statistics:
|27||99||20||32|| 3 ||1||10||25|| 0 ||13||21||.323||.422||.657||1.079|
Then things took an unexpected turn for Galarraga, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1998.
He underwent treatment, including chemotherapy, and missed the entire 1999 season.
Primed for his return in 2000, Galarraga once again matched Klesko's April homer mark. This time, however, all of Galarraga's base hits and home runs took a back seat to the power and resilience that he showed in the face of cancer.
Andres Galarraga's April 2000 statistics:
|22||82||15||24||2||0||10||24|| 1 || 5 ||20||.293||.370||.683||1.052|
Gary Sheffield: 2003
Gary Sheffield had 132 RBI in 2003.
Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images
Gary Sheffield came to Atlanta in a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers prior to 2002. While his initial season did not provide the kind of power most fans expected, his second year with the team certainly did.
They belted a collective 235 home runs and batted .284 as a club.
Sheffield was right in the middle of that wrecking crew, connecting for 39 home runs and driving in a career-best 132 runs that season.
A great start is always helpful, and that is precisely what he got in 2003.
Not only was Sheffield busy driving in runs, but he was busy scoring them as well. He had 19 RBI and 27 runs scored that April. His discipline at the plate was also on display, as opposing pitchers struck out Sheffield just six times in 97 at-bats for the month.
In a career that spanned 22 seasons and produced 509 home runs, Sheffield enjoyed one of his best years in Atlanta in 2003. He parlayed his success into a three-year, $39 million deal with the Yankees the following winter.
Gary Sheffeld's April 2003 statistics:
|27||97||27||33|| 7 ||0||7||19|| 5 ||15||6||.340||.435||.629||1.064|
Chipper Jones: 1998, 2001 & 2008
Chipper Jones drove in 29 runs in April of 1998.
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Like Aaron and Murphy before him, Chipper Jones' name can perennially be found among both the team and league leaders during his time with Atlanta.
Jones finished a 19-year career in 2012.
During that time, he earned a reputation as one of the greatest switch-hitters in baseball history. The eight-time All-Star clocked 468 career home runs and finished behind only Mickey Mantle (536) and Eddie Murray (504) on the home run list among switch-hitters.
Like Mantle, Jones won a batting title, earned league MVP honors and was named team captain over the course of his career. He was also asked to provide the thump in the three-spot of the batting order.
Jones enjoyed quite a few hot starts during his career. His three best are easily among the finest opening months by any Braves player, beginning with the 1998 season.
He got off to a blistering pace for both RBI and runs scored, closing in on 30 in each category by the time April was finished. Hitting just south of .370 with 29 RBI and 28 runs scored is a pretty good way to insert your name in the MVP discussion, but 1998 was the year of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.
Chipper Jones' April 1998 statistics:
|27||106||28||39|| 7 ||1||9||29|| 1 ||15||16||.368||.443||.708||1.150|
The 2001 Braves were plugging right along with a streak of 14 consecutive division titles.
Jones had long since established himself as the linchpin of the offense. Much like Aaron, Jones' offense never came with the high price of strikeouts, evidenced by just nine in 90 at-bats that April.
Just like Aaron, Jones never struck out 100 times in a season during his career either.
Locked and loaded again, Jones burst out of the gate with 23 RBI in his first 26 games, batting .356/.459/.633 and scoring 17 runs as well. This was also the season before Jones vacated third base and took up residence in left field from 2002-2004.
Chipper Jones' April 2001 statistics:
|26||90||17||32||4||0||7||23|| 1 || 19 || 9 ||.356||.459||.633||1.093|
At 36 years old in 2008, Jones somehow seemed to be getting better with age. He opened the season on a quest to earn the batting title which had eluded him the year prior.
What he ended up doing was flirting with history, winning the batting crown and setting an Atlanta record for highest batting average in the process.
Jones hit .410 in the season's first month, connecting for eight home runs. His average stayed above the .400 mark until late June and stood at .364 at the end of 2008.
Chipper Jones' April 2008 statistics:
|25||100||19||41||4||0||8||21|| 0 || 10 ||10||.410||.455||.690||1.145|
Justin Upton: 2013
Justin Upton set a franchise record with 12 home runs in April.
Rob Carr/Getty Images
What have we learned as we sifted through the April stats of years gone by?
Despite hitting homers on a rapid pace, Justin Upton is not alone in club history when it comes to dominant first month performances.
In fact, he finds himself shoulder to shoulder with some of the best players Atlanta has seen.
While Klesko, Galarraga and Sheffield each had fine careers, much of their work was done while wearing different uniforms. Etching your name with Aaron, Murphy and Jones puts the younger Upton brother in elite company for the franchise.
Taking over the third spot in the lineup for a future Hall of Famer is no easy task.
Like Jones, Upton is a former No. 1 overall draft pick, so dealing with heightened expectations has come with the proverbial territory.
Upton has slugged his way to early consideration for the NL MVP award, setting a new club record for most home runs in the month of April—with 12.
The fact that 11 of those were solo-shots speaks to the on-base struggles in the top two spots of the order, rather than Upton's inability to drive in runs.
The two spots in front of Upton are batting a combined .178 this season. There is no way to knock in base runners that simply are not out there.
He finished the month leading the majors with 12 home runs and a .722 slugging percentage. It was a great sign for a power hitter who was coming off a 2012 season in which he hit just 17 home runs in 150 games.
Justin Upton's April 2013 statistics:
|26||94||22||28|| 5 ||0||12||19|| 3 ||16||30||.298||.402||.734||1.136|
Though his early season performance is a prime reason why the Braves are sitting atop the NL East in 2013, Upton finds himself with company among the best early season performances in Atlanta history.