The Atlanta Braves started the 2014 campaign with considerable offensive production problems, but the situation looked much better over the last three games, as the Braves posted a whopping 23 runs in a three-game sweep over the Washington Nationals that put Atlanta on top of the NL East with an 8-4 record.
Several Braves batters had impressive games in the latest matchups against the Nats, but none more so than left fielder Justin Upton. Upton came into Friday’s series-opening game fresh off of a two-home run game against the New York Mets and continued to pound baseball after baseball at Turner Field, recording 8 hits which included a pair of doubles as well as a home run that came in the first inning of Atlanta’s dominating 10-2 victory on Sunday.
The youngest of the Upton duo for the Braves looked shaky in the team’s first pair of meetings with Washington last weekend thanks in part to six strikeouts, but his output over the last five games makes it look like the twenty-six-year-old is prepared for another season filled with mammoth home runs and his fair share of RBIs.
Certainly one cannot predict an entire season based on two or three games alone, but all Braves fans should feel cautiously optimistic about how center fielder BJ Upton handled himself at the plate in the series against Washington. Much maligned for his free-swinging approach that has left him with a disconcerting number of strikeouts, “Bossman Junior” appeared more conservative at the plate at Turner Field this weekend, which has resulted in hits in four of his last five starts and a pair of two-hit games to close out the meetings with the Nationals.
Upton displayed both the power and the speed that Braves general manager Frank Wren hoped he would bring to the club in the sweep over Washington, delivering a 416-foot shot over the center field wall on Saturday that was the opening act in a first inning in which Atlanta posted four runs and then a well-timed bunt single in the bottom of the first on Sunday that caught the Nats defense a bit off guard and helped Jason Heyward advance to third in what proved to be a 3-run inning for the Braves.
Whether Chipper Jones’ meeting with BJ Upton on Thursday had anything to do with the 75 Million Dollar Man’s recent success remains to be seen, but what can be said is that whatever the former Tampa Bay Ray has done in the past few days, he should make a habit of it.
The Braves started this season with the goal of merely trying to keep pace with the Nationals in the division race due to some big injuries in the pitching rotation, and although the first few games witnessed lackluster hitting, the last few outings have featured a Braves squad that looks ready to race into the summertime and compete for the best record in the National League.
Can this club truly hang with the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers of the N.L. world? Predictions in mid-April can completely fall flat come May and June, but seeing as this team just produced 65 hits in the span of a week concluding on Sunday and is chugging along with a makeshift rotation that is playing surprisingly well, it sure seems hard to argue against such a notion.
The Braves continue to take on their rivals in the NL East starting on Monday, as the team will travel to the City of Brotherly Love for a four-game series against the 6-6 Philadelphia Phillies. Following these matchups with the Fightin’ Phils, the Braves head to Flushing, New York for three games against the 5-7 New York Mets.
The team then returns to Atlanta on Monday, Apr. 21 for the first day of three games versus the 5-8 Miami Marlins.