Atlanta Braves preview 2014: Resurgence of Uggla, Upton crucial as pitching thins

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Atlanta Braves made huge moves in the offseason, acquiring center fielder B.J. Upton and second baseman Dan Uggla, among others.

Obviously, the sentence above isn’t correct, but for the Braves to have a successful season in 2014, it needs to seem true. Lucky for us, neither hitter provided much production at all in 2013, so virtually anything would be a bonus from last season.

Upton and Uggla need to be a fresh breath of air into the defending National League Eastern Division champions’ lineup because it’s been a rough Spring Training of numerous pitching injuries for the Braves.

With the Mets, Phillies and Marlins likely to come up short again this year, the Braves are expected to challenge the Washington Nationals for division supremacy, but it will be much tougher for Atlanta thanks to the loss of several major arms in the starting rotation.

Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy are done for the year, each needing a second Tommy John surgery, and starters Ervin Santana, Mike Minor and Gavin Floyd won’t be ready to pitch at the start of the season. While all three should be back in less than four weeks, it’s likely to be a rough start for the Braves on the mound.

(Also read: Here’s why baseball’s elbow troubles were bound to happen)

That’s where Uggla and Upton come in. An offense that averaged 4.3 runs per game in 2013 will need to be better in 2014 despite the loss of reliable Brian McCann, who is now a member of the New York Yankees. Braves fans can only hope Jason Heyward doesn’t miss two months of ball like he did a year ago, but B.J. and Dan have to be productive hitters if the Braves are to keep pace with the Nats because the starting pitchers will have their hands full in every series.

The good news, according to Braves beat writer Mark Bowman, is that both have been hitting markedly better this preseason. Upton is hitting the ball to all fields and getting around on fastballs, and coaches have been praising Uggla’s performance during Spring Training.

But even with improved seasons from Upton and Uggla added to a deep lineup that returns names like Heyward, Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson and Evan Gattis, injuries to key starting pitchers could be a lasting issue for the Braves. On the other hand, the Braves had an injury-plagued 2013 campaign that ended in a playoff berth in spite of a crowded disabled list, and the players are convinced the team will be fine this year, too.

“Each year, you’re going to face something,” Heyward told “You’ve just got to put it in the back of your mind and just play baseball. Nobody makes excuses for you. Injuries are going to happen. But nobody is ever going to give you a pass for them.”

Braves fans are hoping Heyward will be right, and that the Braves are done with Tommy John surgeries for a while. If he is, and they are, another division title is certainly a possibility for the Bravos.

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