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Justin Upton Leads Braves to an Amazing Start

Only 13 games into the season, the Atlanta Braves have lost just once. They’ve won 10 straight – best in the majors – and already lead the National League East by 4 1/2 games and have the best record in baseball.

It is early yet, but there is reason to feel that general manager Frank Wren has built a roster that’s packed with power, deep in pitching and poised to carry Atlanta to the postseason.

”We’ve been able to win some ballgames early on,” left fielder Justin Upton, who has eight home runs,¬† said. ”We know it’s a long season, so our goal is to go out and play good baseball.”

That hasn’t been a problem thus far.

Atlanta’s latest victory, on Jackie Robinson Day, was engineered by another display from one of the most potent lineups in the majors. Jason Heyward, Upton and Dan Uggla each hit solo homers in the eighth inning to help the Braves rally past Kansas City for a 6-3 victory on Tuesday night.

Juan Francisco hit a pair of solo homers earlier in the game, Chris Johnson followed Uggla with an RBI single and Atlanta got solid relief pitching from Eric O’Flaherty and closer Craig Kimbrel¬† for another win.

The Braves’ power display is nothing new to Fredi Gonzalez, Cox’s hand-picked successor as manager.

”It’s nice to have that type of arsenal on your club because it’s a game-changer,” Gonzalez said. ”One swing of the bat and you can put some runs on the board. So that’s always nice.”

A three-game sweep of the Nationals last weekend in Washington gave a stamp of legitimacy to a team that wondered what kind of identity it would have after the retirement of Jones, Atlanta’s longtime slugging third baseman.

But during a busy offseason, Wren signed center fielder B.J. Upton to the richest contract in team history, pulled off a blockbuster trade for his brother, Justin Upton, and paired them with Heyward to give the Braves three potential five-tool outfielders.

Atlanta had the luxury of adding the Uptons not so much to resurrect the team but to enhance it, and that’s because the Braves’ farm system aced high-round draft picks like Heyward, first baseman Freddie Freeman, Kimbrel, shortstop Andrelton Simmons and starter Mike Minor.

Gonzalez, now in his third season, said he gets a kick out of filling out his lineup card every day even with first baseman Freeman and catcher Brian McCann currently on the disabled list.

Freeman, the runner-up to Kimbrel for NL rookie of the year in 2011, is expected to return from a strained oblique next week.

McCann, a six-time All-Star who’s recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, might take a little longer, but while he and Freeman are rehabbing, the Braves are getting big numbers from Evan Gattis, Chris Johnson and Francisco.

Justin Upton, now in his third week with the Braves, enjoys looking around the clubhouse and seeing a solid starting rotation, a dependable bullpen and power – lots and lots of power.

”It’s fun when you can do that,” Upton said. ”But our goal is to go out and play good baseball every night, pitch well, play good defense, put together good at-bats, and we’ve been able to do that so far.”

Atlanta’s 10-game winning streak is its longest since the club won 15 straight from April 15-May 2, 2000. At 12-1, the Braves are off to their best start since they began the 1994 season 13-1.

Read more: AP

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