B.J. Upton hit .246 with 28 homers last season for the Tampa Bay Rays and is one of several hitters in the Braves lineup who could lead Atlanta to the playoffs for the first time in three years.
ATLANTA — The Braves’ unprecedented run of 14 consecutive division titles in the 1990s and early 2000s was based on pitching and more pitching. Now they will try a different formula.
After not winning a postseason series since 2001 — and not even making the playoffs the past two seasons — the Braves will give offense at least equal billing in 2013 and beyond as they try to reclaim their past prominence.
General manager Frank Wren made two big offseason moves, both involving an Upton. He signed free agent B.J. Upton to a five-year deal worth $72.5 million, then acquired younger brother Justin from Arizona in a blockbuster trade.
With the Uptons joining Jason Heyward, the Braves have arguably the best young outfield in the National League, and they also have a budding slugger at first base in Freddie Freeman.
The presence of retired future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones will certainly be missed. But now manager Fredi Gonzalez has a power-packed lineup that can match up with anyone in the NL, especially if Brian McCann can bounce back after shoulder surgery.
The pitching staff, meanwhile, also looks solid, with Craig Kimbrel anchoring a deep bullpen and Brandon Beachy expected to give a rotation led by veteran Tim Hudson a boost by midseason after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
Kris Medlen, who was 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA after joining the rotation last season, and Mike Minor, who also had a strong second half, had some rough starts late in spring training, but the Braves remain confident that neither was a fluke.
The Braves have potential issues defensively at second and third base, but certainly not at shortstop. Andrelton Simmons, entering his first full season, is already as good as anyone.
The Braves won 94 games in 2012 and averaged 90 victories in the past four seasons. But the end results were disappointing, capped with last season’s controversial loss to the Cardinals in the NL wild-card game.
Will the offseason changes be enough to beat out the Nationals in the NL East?
“I feel that this is the best team we’ve had since I’ve been general manager,” said Wren, who took over from John Schuerholz after the 2007 season. “I don’t see a big hole.
“It’s by far the most athletic team, it has the most speed, it’s the most powerful, has the most balance. Now we’ve got to go play.”
HUDSON TO START OPENING DAY: Hudson, 37, will make the sixth opening day start of his career but first since 2008 when he faces the Phillies on Monday at Turner Field.
Hudson, three short of 200 victories, was 16-7 last season despite missing most of the first month while rehabbing from back surgery.
“Why not give it to the veteran guy?” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “The opening day start is a special thing.”
Hudson is 1-0 with a 2.79 ERA in his previous five openers, three with the Athletics.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to pitch on opening day with any club, especially with this team,” said Hudson, who pitched six scoreless innings against the Nationals on March 21 after getting the word. “I feel that we have a lot of guys who were deserving of it.”
SLUMP BREAKER: Justin Upton got quick results working on his swing with hitting coach Greg Walker.
He broke out of a 1-for-17 spring slump with a 9-for-16 spree that included three mammoth home runs at Champion Stadium. Upton cleared the berm in left field twice against the Phillies on March 18, then hit a towering blast over the scoreboard against the Nationals on March 21.
The shot against the Nationals’ Dan Haren might have been the longest ever hit at Champion Stadium.
“I didn’t think it was ever coming down,” Gonzalez said.
MEDLEN’S STRUGGLES: Medlen said he felt fine, but he certainly didn’t get his normal results in his last two Grapefruit League starts.
He allowed 14 hits and nine runs in five innings against the Phillies on March 18, then gave up nine hits and six runs over five innings against the Nationals on Monday as his ERA reached 7.23. Medlen, who was 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA after moving into the rotation last season, struggled with his curveball all spring and was making his strikes too good. He had three walks to 17 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings.
TEHERAN SHINES: Teheran celebrated officially being named to the rotation with his second hitless outing of the spring on Sunday against the Astros.
The rookie struck out 10 and walked three over six innings, a nice play by Simmons keeping the Astros without a hit.
Teheran pitched five hitless innings against the Cardinals on March 12 and the outing against the Astros gave him a 3-1 record and 1.04 ERA.
The 22-year-old native of Colombia had allowed just seven hits in 26 innings and had 35 strikeouts to eight walks. No longer reliant on his fastball, Teheran got most of his strikeouts against the Astros with his curveball.
LAIRD GETTING HEALTHY: Catcher Gerald Laird took a week off to rest a sore calf.
Laird, who will open as the regular catcher with McCann out for most of April, had played in just 10 Grapefruit League games through Monday, going 2-for-20.
The Braves used Laird’s down time to get a better look at slugger Evan Gattis behind the plate. Gattis had a two-homer game against the Phillies on March 22 and appeared on the verge of making the team.
McCann, rehabbing from surgery on his right shoulder, won’t be cleared to begin a minor league rehab assignment until at least April 16 — six months after his surgery.