Jason Heyward, Justin Upton

2013 Preview: Atlanta Braves

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Atlanta Braves.

The Big Question: is there life after Chipper Jones?

Sure there is. Because for as good as his final year was — and every year before that — Jones still only managed to play in 112 games last season and only managed to play in more than 140 games once in his final nine seasons. I’m not meaning to suggest that Jones was some sort of liability, obviously, but the fact is that the Braves had to replace Jones often in the last decade of his career, just not all at once. This is not like losing Lou Gehrig here.

But he certainly does create something of a leadership vacuum. For years this didn’t matter all that much on the Braves as Bobby Cox was the dominant figure in Atlanta, but under Fredi Gonzalez, Jones certainly stepped up by all accounts.  As we’ve said many times before, it’s impossible to quantify leadership. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a thing, and as you look up and down the Braves’ roster, you notice a distinct lack of guys with either years under their belt, years in Atlanta under their belt, or the reputation as leadership types. I’m not suggesting that this will be the difference between the Braves winning and losing, but it may be the single biggest impact of Jones’ departure.

What else is going on?

  • Obviously the production matters more than anything, so what of it? While many have been inclined to say the Braves loaded for bear over the offseason, it’s not at all clear that the offense is substantially improved over last year. Yes, B.J. and Justin Upton have arrived, but losing Chipper, Martin Prado and Michael Bourn is pretty damn significant, as they were all offensive contributors and two of them were strong defensive contributors.
  • There are other factors that may make this less of a problem than it seems, though. The key offensive contributors — Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons and the Uptons — are all young and, for the most part, improving. If any of them had their single best year n 2013 it would not be some fluke given their ages and a couple of them — particularly Simmons — can certainly be expected to take a big leap forward. If most of them do, people may be asking “Chipper, Martin, and Michael who?”
  • But with great power comes great strikeoutability. And boy howdy are the Braves gonna strike out a lot. They were the most whiffingest team in all of baseball last year and the additions, including Jones replacements Juan Francisco and/or Chris Johnson, along with old reliable hackers like Dan Uggla, are gonna make Turner Field a pretty breezy place indeed. There is some serious power potential here. Serious slump potential. Serious Three True Outcomes potential. It’s gonna be quite the scene, man.
  • Over to pitching, it’s not saying much to say the Braves’ bullpen is the best in the game. Craig Kimbrel is an absolute assassin. The setup trio of Johnny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty and Jordan Walden are pretty impressive too. Bullpens exhibit great variance from year to year — and it’s possible that Venters will never be what he was a couple of years ago — but Fredi Gonzalez has an awful lot to work with once the starters tire.
  • About those starters: it’s a good group. Not a great group, and this is where I think the biggest difference between the Nationals and the Braves truly lies. Kris Medlen was fantastic last season and may very well be a number one starter, but he obviously will not repeat the performance he put up in 2012. Behind him are Tim Hudson, Mike Minor, Paul Maholm and most likely Julio Teheran. In the second half of the season a returning-from-Tommy John surgery Brandon Beachy could join them. All of them are capable of quite good things and, at times anyway, I feel like Hudson has one more truly dominant season left. But it’s more likely that the Braves have a collection of solid number three starters. Which can certainly work — you want rotation health and you want to avoid disaster starts from guys who belong in Triple-A — but none of these guys are “we need you to pitch one game vs. the Martians for the survival of Humankind” material.

Prediction: Second place, National League East. Likely wild card winner.

Blue Jays place Tulowitzki on DL with right quad strain

TORONTO, CANADA - MAY 27: Troy Tulowitzki #2 of the Toronto Blue Jays is hit by pitch in the sixth inning during MLB game action against the Boston Red Sox on May 27, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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TORONTO (AP) The Toronto Blue Jays have placed Troy Tulowitzki on the 15-day disabled list with a right quad injury.

An MRI before Saturday’s game against the Boston Red Sox revealed a low-grade strain, and Tulowitzki will receive treatment on the leg before resuming baseball activities.

“I think I needed more time to get over the hump,” he said. “There was a couple things that made me realize that I wasn’t myself out there. I just felt it too many times.”

Tulowitzki was injured stealing second in New York against the Yankees on Tuesday. He came out of that game, and after sitting out the remainder of the series, he returned for Friday night’s home game against the Red Sox but was ineffective, going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts and showing limitations in his movement in the field.

“It’s tough,” Tulowitzki said. “You could rest it and maybe get better in a week or so, but then you have to play with a man down, and that’s not the right thing to do either, so that was the decision.”

He is batting .204 this season, with eight home runs and 23 RBIs. Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney are expected to split time at shortstop until Tulowitzki returns.

The Blue Jays called up left-handed reliever Aaron Loup to take Tulowitzki’s spot on the roster. Loup, who has yet to play this season, has been recovering from a forearm strain in his pitching arm and just completed a rehab assignment with Triple-A Buffalo.

Mets acquire James Loney from the Padres

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - MARCH 14:  James Loney #21 of the Tampa Bay Rays swings at a pitch during the first inning of a spring training game against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Stadium on March 14, 2016 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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The Mets have acquired first baseman James Loney from the Padres in exchange for cash, ESPN’s Adam Rubin reported on Saturday afternoon. The Mets’ interest in Loney was first reported on Tuesday after learning that Lucas Duda would be out “a while” with a stress fracture in his back.

Loney, 32, has spent the entirety of the 2016 season with Triple-A El Paso in the Padres’ system. He hit .342/.373/.424 with two home runs and 28 RBI in 169 plate appearances.

Rubin suggests Loney could platoon at first base with Wilmer Flores, who is expected to return from the disabled list soon.

Braves place SS Aybar on DL with bruised foot, recall Blair

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 25:  Erick Aybar #1 of the Atlanta Braves reacts after finding gum in his glove from a prank by teammates between the seventh and eighth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Turner Field on May 25, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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ATLANTA (AP) The Atlanta Braves have placed shortstop Erick Aybar on the 15-day disabled list with a bruised right foot.

Aybar left Friday night’s game in the fifth, one inning after he was hit by a pitch from Miami’s Adam Conley. The Braves said Friday night that X-rays were negative.

Aybar, acquired as part of the offseason deal that sent shortstop Andrelton Simmons to the Los Angeles Angels, is hitting .182.

Daniel Castro is starting at shortstop in Saturday’s game against the Marlins.

In a corresponding move, the Braves recalled right-hander Aaron Blair from Triple-A Gwinnett to start Saturday’s game.

Red Sox move Clay Buchholz to the bullpen

BOSTON, MA - MAY 26:  Clay Buchholz #11 of the Boston Red Sox is relieved during the sixth inning against the Colorado Rockies  at Fenway Park on May 26, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Red Sox manager John Farrell announced Friday that Clay Buchholz has been moved to the bullpen.

Buchholz was lit up for six runs on Thursday in just the latest poor outing in a year full of them thus far. His ERA now sits at a lofty 6.35 and he is posting a career low strikeout rate of 5.9 per nine innings while both his walk rate and his home run rates have spiked. His WHIP — 1.465 — is the worst he’s posted since 2008.

Eduardo Rodriguez will take his place in the rotation when he comes off the disabled list. He’ll get what would have been Buchholz’s next start on Tuesday.

According to the depth chart, Buchholz was the Red Sox’ second starter. He’s been their worst starter by far this year, however, and now he’s likely a long man who will be seeing mopup duty for the foreseeable future.