LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- A little more than four months have passed since the Braves blew an eighth-inning lead against the Dodgers in the decisive Game 4 of the National League Division Series. While time has erased the initial frustration, it appears a lingering sting could provide some motivation this season.
The Braves are eagerly approaching the dawn of a new season with a sense of confidence that is fortified by the fact that this year's roster looks much like the same one they used on the way to notching 96 victories and the NL East crown last year.
A sense of optimism and excitement filled the air as Atlanta's pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training on Thursday and began preparing for their first workout on Friday.
Though the club's first full-squad workout will not be held until Wednesday, a handful of position players, including Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla, have already spent the past couple of days working at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex, which has served as the club's Spring Training home since 1998.
The early days of camp could produce a bit of an odd feeling that comes courtesy of the offseason departures of the club's two previously longest-tenured players -- Tim Hudson and Brian McCann. While these two veterans will be missed in the clubhouse, the Braves spent last season's final two months providing some indication that they can win without them.
Atlanta produced a Major League-best 39-21 record after July 24, the day that Hudson suffered his season-ending ankle injury. During this 60-game span, McCann hit just .217 with seven home runs and a .661 OPS.
As Hudson extends his career with the Giants and McCann experiences a new life with the Yankees, the Braves believe they are still capable of staying ahead of a talented Nationals club that finished 10 games back in last year's division race.
Minus Hudson and left-handed reliever Eric O'Flaherty, who missed last season's final four months, the Braves' pitching staff will essentially be the same one that led the Majors with a 3.18 ERA last year. This rotation, which is anchored by Kris Medlen and Mike Minor, could prove to be even stronger if Brandon Beachy is healthy and Julio Teheran takes another step forward, coming off his impressive rookie season.
Beachy's frustrating attempt to return from Tommy John surgery was limited to the five starts he made before having to undergo a cleanup surgery in September. The veteran right-hander arrived in camp earlier this week without any restrictions. Now, Beachy will attempt to regain the successful form he had when he produced a Major League-best 2.00 ERA in the 13 starts he made before blowing out his elbow in June 2012.
In an effort to provide depth and insurance to their rotation, Atlanta provided a one-year deal to Gavin Floyd, who will be sidelined until at least May while recovering from elbow reconstruction surgery. With uncertainty surrounding Floyd, the club made a seemingly wise decision to also re-sign Freddy Garcia, the ageless veteran who nearly beat Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers in Game 4 of last year's NLDS.
With Craig Kimbrel set to extend his days as a dominant closer, the Braves' bullpen could once again be one of the game's best. Luis Avilan, Jordan Walden, and David Carpenter are also set to return to this relief corps that set a franchise record with a 2.46 bullpen ERA last year.
When the Braves open their Grapefruit League schedule with a Feb. 26 home game against the Tigers, they will be evaluating a number of pitchers who could fill what appears to be two available spots in the bullpen. Left-hander Ryan Buchter and righty Luis Vasquez seemingly have the potential to draw a lot of buzz as they compete for a spot.
----- Source: MLB.com