MLB Atlanta Braves

5 Reasons for Atlanta Braves Fans to Be Thankful Heading into 2014

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Atlanta Braves: 5 Reasons for Fans to Be Thankful Heading into 2014

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves were once again the cream of the NL East crop in 2013. They won the division by an astounding 10 games over the Washington Nationals.

The Braves' 96 wins were good for second in all of the NL, just one behind the league-leading St. Louis Cardinals. The season went well and Fredi Gonzalez did a wonderful job with the squad. They had to deal with some slumps and a few injuries, but seemed to overcome it all during the season.

The postseason is where the trouble started. They took on the extremely hot Los Angeles Dodgers. L.A. completely took advantage of Atlanta's inexperienced pitching. In the four-game series win, the Dodgers scored 27 runs, including a 13-6 drubbing in Game 3. Mike Minor was the Braves' only pitcher who came away with a win. Brian McCann went hitless in what could effectively be his last series wearing a Braves uniform.

The Braves are losing a few other veterans this season. Tim Hudson was told that he will not be returning to the franchise that he has spent his career with since 2005. Paul Maholm and Freddy Garcia, who held the rotation together when injuries hit, won't be returning as well.

The Braves will have plenty of talent and young guns going into 2014. It will be interesting to see what the team does with their starting pitching staff and with the money they save if Hudson and McCann do indeed go elsewhere.

There is reason for optimism for Braves fans. These are the five reasons why fans should feel good going into the 2014 season.

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5. Freddie Freeman Trying To Repeat His Breakout Season

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Freddie Freeman was quietly one of the best players in the league in 2013. He finally found a good balance between hitting for average and hitting for power. He raised his average by 60 points while keeping his home runs at 23 from 2012 to 2013. He even hit .313 against a potent Dodgers pitching staff. If he can play to even 85 percent of 2013, then he will once again be able to carry the rest of this team to the postseason.

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4. Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran

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There are a bunch of question marks when it comes to the bottom of the Braves' rotation, but the top is in good shape for years to come. Kris Medlen could not keep the torrid pace he was on at the end of 2013, but he was still very good. Mike Minor was just as good. In his second full season in the majors, Minor put up a 3.21 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. Julio Tehran was great in his first year in the starting rotation. This is going to be a good staff no matter who they end up adding to it.

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3. Craig Kimbrel Is A Beast

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

With Mariano Rivera now retired, Craig Kimbrel could be the undisputed best closer in baseball. He is coming off a 50-save season with a 1.21 ERA. He allowed less than one baserunner per inning in 2013. He has been the best thing to happen to the Braves bullpen since John Smoltz decided to move from being a starter. He has been unhittable for two years now and has shown no signs of slowing down. This could be the next great closer and someone who could last much longer than most in the bullpen.

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2. B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla Can't Be Worse

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

There is no way that Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton could be any worse than how they played in 2013. Uggla was so bad that his $62 million contract extension was left off the roster for the playoffs. He hit .179 throughout the season and had 171 strikeouts. That is a career-low and a career-high. Although he has trended downward since playing for the Braves, he finally hit rock bottom last season. Unlike Uggla, Upton didn't even keep his power numbers on top of not hitting. He hit nine home runs for them while only hitting .184 over the season. He had career-lows in every hitting statistic since he became a full-time starter. It has to be uphill from here for these two.

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1. A Full Season From Jason Heyward

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The Braves were missing Jason Heyward for about one third of the season. He didn't get a lot of hits in the NLDS, but it seemed every time he did, it was in the clutch and scored runs. He missed 52 games throughout the season this year. He only had 38 RBIs, a large drop from the 82 he had in 2012. He seemed to play with a much better eye, raising his on-base percentage from .335 to .349. Getting on base on top of getting the power numbers will propel him into one of the best players in the league in 2014.