The city of Atlanta knows all too well about heartbreak, and that heartbreak was only exacerbated by a number of unbelievably crushing losses in 2012. It began with the Braves‘ infamous “infield fly” loss to the Cardinals in the 2012 Wildcard Playoff Game, and ended with the Falcons blowing a 17-point lead to the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. Even the Georgia Bulldogs were a gut-wrenching 5 yards away from playing Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game. It seems as if all the Atlanta sports teams are stuck in some sort of championship “curse”.
The dictionary defines a curse as “the expression of a wish that misfortune, evil, doom, etc., befall a person, group”, and with only one major championship over the past twenty years, Atlanta has had its fair share of playoff misfortunes. The overwhelming sentiment in the city of Atlanta has been that their teams are pretty good, but they just aren’t good enough – and that sentiment only grew after the disappointments of 2012. However, 2013 is a new year, and with it comes new championship dreams and fears. With only 18 days until the first Spring Training game, many are wondering if the 2013 Braves will be the first team in Atlanta to dispel those fears and end the so-called “curse”.
On paper, the 2013 Atlanta Braves look like one of the best teams in baseball. That is due, in large part, to the hard work put in during the off-season by Braves’ General Manager Frank Wren. With a budget that many Major League teams would laugh at, Wren still found a way to bolster Atlanta’s lineup by signing free agent center fielder B.J. Upton, while also acquiring his brother Justin Upton in a blockbuster trade. However, that trade didn’t go down without sacrifice, as the Braves were forced to give up fan favorite Martin Prado in the deal.
Many fans were upset with the departure of Prado, and while Prado was a great player for the Braves, Justin Upton could be the type of superstar the Braves organization has not seen in years. Upton is one of the few players in the league who possesses the ability to accumulate double digit home runs and steals, and that addition of power and speed could make the Braves’ offense one of the most formidable in all of baseball. This Braves’ lineup could potentially have six players with 20+ HR (the Uptons, Heyward, Freeman, McCann, Uggla). A third base platoon of Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson could easily combine for 20+ HR as well.
A powerful offense is not the only thing opposing teams will have to prepare for in 2013, as the Braves will also show off a very talented defense. Shortstop Adrelton Simmons already proved a season ago that it is tough to get anything by him, but if a ball does happen to squeeze through the infield, it will be met by what may prove to be the best outfield in the Majors. Justin Upton, B.J. Upton, and Jason Heyward all bring the type of blazing speed and spectacular glove work that will have opposing hitters angrily breaking bats in droves. That same spectacular glove work has been highlighted over the past couple of seasons, as Justin Upton and Jason Heyward have won the last two NL Fielding Bible Awards – an honor that is given to the best fielders at each position. It’s not hard to imagine all three outfielders getting Gold Glove recognition at the end of the season.
The offensive power and spectacular athleticism in the outfield are just two examples of what make the Braves a potential championship contender in 2013. The other is a top tier pitching staff.
The starting rotation will once again be led by veteran Tim Hudson in what may be one of his final years in the league. Following him are a number of young standouts that include southpaws Paul Maholm and Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, and Kris Medlen – who posted an eye popping 10-1 record with a 1.57 ERA a season ago. The rotation could get even better late in the season with the addition of Brandon Beachy – who led the MLB in ERA before his mid-season injury in 2012.
The Braves’ bullpen is once again expected to be one of the best in baseball, with Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters, and Craig Kimbrel leading the group. If Venters can regain his 2011 form, and Kimbrel can build on a silly 2012 campaign that saw him accumulate 42 saves and 116 strikeouts, with a 1.01 ERA, the Braves’ bullpen may treat Atlanta fans to a number of swings and misses in 2013.
So can these Atlanta Braves break Atlanta’s championship “curse”? Despite an amazing team on paper, many fans think that it will be more of the same. That is understandable since they have dealt with so much disappointment in the past. However, I believe that we shouldn’t count these Braves out just yet. They definitely have the potential to be one of the best teams – if not the best team – in baseball this season. Only time will tell if that potential will turn into a championship.