Reasons to Be Optimistic for Atlanta Braves' 2014 Season

Daniel Kock@@dannykockContributor IIIApril 1, 2014

Reasons to Be Optimistic for Atlanta Braves' 2014 Season

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    Baseball is back, and that's a reason to be excited in itself. 

    The Braves didn't get off to the start they were hoping for with a 2-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Opening Day on Monday afternoon.

    Despite that loss, there is plenty of reason to be excited about the 2014 season if you are a Braves fan.

    The team returns a young and talented core that won the National League East last season.

    On paper, this team should once again compete for a division title with the opportunity to advance in the postseason.

    Here's an optimistic view on the Braves upcoming 2014 season.

6. Division Title Edge

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    Winning the 2013 division will not directly lead to more wins this season, but it could give them an edge.

    Getting off to a hot start to begin the season could give this team more confidence while making the rest of the division play catch-up.

    The Braves could put the rest of the division in a "here we go again" mentality after the first month and give them a slight edge for the entire season.

    The Braves dominated the N.L. East last year, posting a winning record against each team and dominating the Washington Nationals (13-6).

    Once again, the Nationals look to be the Braves' biggest threat in the division in 2014.

    The Braves play the Nationals six times in April and can get in their heads by winning the majority of those games.

    Confidence in being division champs could give the Braves a slight mental edge over the rest of the division throughout the season.

5. Healthy Heyward

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    The Braves did not have a healthy Jason Heyward for the entire 2013 season (104 games), and he is the most important players on the team, in my opinion.

    Heyward can affect the game in so many ways, with his speed, fielding, power and ability to get on base at a high rate.

    When he's at his best, so too are the Braves.

    Last season, the Braves were 71-33 in games he appeared and 66-31 in games he started. He is a huge part of the Braves having success.

    And perhaps not scoring a long-term contract extension (received a two-year deal) that so many other Braves players got this offseason could serve as a little extra motivation to have an MVP-type season.

4. Uggla/Upton Production

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    Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton both had atrocious years for the Braves last season.

    Neither hit above the Mendoza Line (Uggla .179 and Upton .184) while combining to strike out over 320 times in 2013.

    The two can't get any worse in 2014, right?

    While I'm not going to suggest that either will lead the team in batting this season, it would be historically bad for them to not improve their production this year.

    Both hit for decent averages this spring (Uggla .269 and Upton .267), and Uggla led the team with four home runs and 14 RBI.

    This is an encouraging sign but obviously will need to translate into the regular season when it counts.

    Both got off to an 0-for-4 start on Monday with Upton striking out twice, but it was a bad day for the offense overall.

    It's near impossible that they are worse in 2014, but that's why they play the games.

3. Bullpen Dominance

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    The Atlanta Braves' bullpen led the majors with a 2.46 ERA last year, and there's reason to believe it will lead MLB in that category once again.

    That starts with the best closer in the game in Craig Kimbrel.

    Kimbrel notched 50 saves with a 1.21 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 67 innings in 2013, helping him to a nice new contract extension this offseason.

    While Kimbrel serves as the anchor, the bullpen features nice depth when healthy.

    Luis Avilan will likely serve as the primary setup man after posting a 1.52 ERA last year, but Jordan Walden and David Carpenter also have the ability to fill that role.

    Gus Schlosser and Ian Thomas pitched well this spring and look to be key pieces in the bullpen this year.

    It's also worth noting that Jonny Venters will be ready to pitch in the next few months, giving the Braves a nice addition later this year.

2. The Long Ball

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    The Braves led the National League with 181 home runs in 2013, and I believe they have a shot to top that in 2014.

    The Braves have four players with legitimate 30-plus home run potential, two with 20-plus potential and two with 10-plus potential in their starting lineup. And that's a fairly conservative estimate.

    While not all the players in the starting lineup will reach their potential in the same season, the point is there is power up and down the lineup.

    Power is a great equalizer in baseball, and the Braves have the ability to turn around a game as well as anyone in baseball.

    We saw it on multiple occasions in 2013 and expect more of those monstrous blasts and thrilling comebacks in 2014.

1. Young Duo

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    The major story this spring training centered on the season-ending injuries that hit the pitching staff.

    However, there's reason for optimism concerning the rotation thanks to the two young hurlers in Julio Teheran and Alex Wood.

    Both Teheran and Wood had impressive 2013 seasons and followed that up with great springs (Teheran 1.80 ERA, Wood 0.45). 

    For Teheran, this season is about building on a great 2013 rookie season and establishing himself as one of the top young pitchers in the game.

    For Wood, he is looking to cement his position in the starting rotation for the foreseeable future as many still see him as a reliever.

    It's hard to believe that two 23-year-old pitchers are starting the first two games of the season for the Braves, but it's impossible to ignore their talent.

    Expect big seasons for both Teheran and Wood to help steady an injury-depleted pitching rotation.