Spring Training is underway and it's never too early to look at this season's upcoming schedule.
The Cincinnati Reds will see the Atlanta Braves for a three game home series from May 6-8 and then head to Atlanta for the final four games of the first half from July 11-14. Cincinnati will be happy to see the Braves if a repeat of 2012 is in store. Last season the Reds took five of six from Atlanta including a four-game sweep at Great American Ballpark.
Atlanta will begin the post Chipper Jones era as the third baseman announced his retirement after 20 seasons and a World Series Championship with the Braves. Manager Fredi Gonzalez enters his third season as the Braves skipper and is 183-141 and coming off a Wild Card berth last year.
The Braves may have lost some major pieces, but reloaded with some big acquisitions of their own. Instead of Martin Prado and Michael Bourn patrolling the Braves outfield, it will be the Upton brothers, Justin and B.J., who will join Jason Heyward as one of the league's best outfields.
They also bolstered one of the best bullpens with Jordan Walden from the Angels to join closer Craig Kimbrel, Johnny Venters, and Eric O'Flaherty.
Key Additions: Justin Upton (Arizona), B.J. Upton (Tampa Bay), Jordan Walden (Los Angeles), Gerald Laird (Detroit), Chris Johnson (Arizona)
Key Departures: Michael Bourn (Cleveland), Tommy Hanson (Los Angeles), Matt Diaz(New York), Eric Hinske (Arizona), Martin Prado (Arizona)
Here's what the Braves might look like when they face Cincinnati:
Rotation (2012 stats):
1. Tim Hudson (16-7, 3.62 ERA, 102 strikeouts) will turn 38 in the middle of the season and is three wins away from 200 and 199 strikeouts from 2,000 for his career.
2. Kris Medlen (10-1, 1.57 ERA, 120 Ks) responded in 2012 after missing nearly all of 2011 recovering from an injury. It will be interesting to see how he will handle a full season as a starting pitcher.
3. Mike Minor (11-10, 4.12 ERA, 145 Ks) started 2012 poorly with an ERA of nearly six before the All-Star break, but recovered going 6-4 with a 2.16 ERA in the second half of the season.
4. Paul Maholm (13-11, 3.67 ERA, 140 Ks w/Cubs & Braves) was happy to get out of Pittsburgh as he finally got the support he needed. While he had nearly the same ERA as he did in 2011, Maholm set a career high in wins after winning only six games the year before.
5. Brandon Beachy/Julio Teheran-With Beachy (5-5, 2.00 ERA, 68 Ks) sidelined for the beginning of the season, Teheran (0-0, 5.68 ERA, 5 Ks) will get a chance to add to his four career starts.
Cory Gearrin (0-1, 1.80 ERA, 20 Ks, 4 holds) rebounded from a rough 2011 (1-1, 7.85 ERA) and also lowered his WHIP from 1.58 to 1.10.
Luis Avilan (1-0, 2.00 ERA, 33 Ks, 5 holds) made a strong showing in his first 31 major league games and looks to build off that success in 2013.
Christhian Martinez (5-4, 3.91 ERA, 65 Ks) set a career high in appearances (54), but also saw his ERA rise by .55 and his WHIP by .37 despite pitching in four fewer innings.
Jordan Walden (3-2, 3.45 ERA, 48 Ks) had a disappointing season in 2012 after a breakthrough performance in 2011 in which he saved 32 games. Walden instead lost his closer's job early in the year and was shipped to Atlanta for Tommy Hanson.
Jonny Venters (5-4, 3.22 ERA, 69 Ks, 20 holds) also had a down year as he appeared in 19 fewer games, but saw his ERA rise from 1.84 to 3.22 and his WHIP from 1.09 to 1.52 in 2012.
Eric O'Flaherty (3-0, 1.73 ERA, 46 Ks, 28 holds) saw his numbers rise, but it was hard to think that he could duplicate a 2011 performance in which he appeared in 78 games and had an ERA of 0.98.
Craig Kimbrel (3-1, 1.01 ERA, 116 Ks, 42 saves) continued to be one of the league's top closers as he saved over 40 games for the second straight season.
C. Brian McCann (121 games played, .230 avg, 20 HR, 67 RBI) will be out to start the season with a shoulder injury, but the All-Star has other worries as his average, homers and RBI total were either career lows or second to last.
1B. Freddie Freeman (147 games, .259 avg, 23 HR, 94 RBI) saw his average drop 23 points, but bested his rookie numbers in homers (21) and RBI (76). He also scored 91 runs.
2B. Dan Uggla (154 games, .220 avg, 19 HR, 78 RBI) was named an All-Star last season despite setting career lows in average, homers, and RBI.
3B. Chris Johnson (136 games, .281 avg, 15 HR, 76 RBI w/Astros & Diamondbacks) took full advantage of more playing time in 2012, but will take on the task of filling the shoes of a legend in Atlanta.
SS. Andrelton Simmons (49 games, .289 avg, 3 HR, 19 RBI) took over the shorstop role from fellow rookie Tyler Pastornicky midway through the season, but injuries kept him from taking over the job full-time.
LF. Justin Upton (150 games, .280 avg, 17 HR, 67 RBI w/Diamondbacks) backslid a bit in 2012, but hopes that a change of scenery helps after six years in Arizona.
CF. B.J. Upton (146 games, .246 avg, 28 HR, 78 RBI w/Rays) joins his brother in the outfield, but showcases more power and speed than his younger sibling. He has hit over 20 homers and swiped over 30 bases in the each of the past two seasons.
RF. Jason Heyward (158 games, .269 avg, 27 HR, 82 RBI) got back on track after a sophomore slump in 2011. He also had his first 20-20 season after hitting 27 jacks and stealing 21 bases.
C. Gerald Laird not only brings a veteran presence behind the plate, but also a streak of appearing in the last two World Series (St. Louis and Detroit).
2B/SS. Paul Janish was acquired last season from the Reds after a string of injures at shortstop. Janish made 55 appearances for the Braves after losing his starting job to Zack Cozart in Cincinnati.
SS. Tyler Pastornicky lost his starting job to Simmons, but still played in 76 games last season.
3B. Juan Francisco was traded by Cincinnati last year for J.J. Hoover to make way for rookie Todd Frazier. He played a vital part to the team in the month of May, but saw his role diminish towards the end of the season.
OF. Jose Constanza appeared in 37 games and had a pinch hit triple in the Braves Wild Card game.
OF. Reed Johnson split time with Chicago and Atlanta last season and will fight for playing time in a stacked Braves outfield.
OF. Jordan Schafer returns to Atlanta after a year and a half in Houston. Schafer was traded to the Astros for center fielder Michael Bourn, but will now play the role of back up to B.J. Upton in center.
C. Christian Bethancourt is one of the top catching prospects in baseball with a strong arm and could make his big league debut if McCann is hampered by injury. If he doesn't get called up at the beginning of the year than he's almost certain to be around in September.