ATLANTA (AP) - Chipper Jones retired last year, Bobby Cox the season before that.
Despite the loss of two franchise cornerstones, the Atlanta Braves seem to be as steady as ever.
Only 13 games into the season, the 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.
Yes, everyone in the clubhouse would say it’s far too early to print playoff tickets, but it seems 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 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 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.