Atlanta Braves are a team to look out for after surprising many

For those of you who weren’t epiphanized by my most recent column, for those of you who didn’t read it, or for those of you who still don’t love baseball — feel free to move along.

And even for those of you who made it to this sentence, you probably won’t care about what I’m about to say next.

Now, for the great group of people who made it to the second sentence, I’ll warn you that my fandom will admittedly be thrust into the next 564 words.

The Atlanta Braves. I’ll say it once more … the Atlanta Braves.

Nobody gave us a chance after we nearly cleared house in the offseason, replacing our entire outfield among new faces at an array of other positions.

But hold up.

We’re obviously going 162-0 following our three-game sweep of the Miami Marlins to open

the season.

OK, OK, back to reality.

Sure, we won’t be perfect, I even predicted we wouldn’t finish the year above .500 — and that was before the news of the Craig Kimbrel trade — but I think we will surprise people.

Just one of five undefeated teams in the early-going, executing run-producing opportunities and locating pitches in crucial situations, the Braves have an outside chance to make some noise this season.

Sure the frightening offseason gave plenty of reason to scare off any substantial preseason predictions, but is our team really any worse?

Losing Jason Heyward, my favorite player, and jokingly the best player in baseball, was one loss that will be hard to replace. Not because of his offense — a part of his game that has yet to peak — but his elite defense in right field is certainly irreplaceable.

However, a veteran like Nick Markakis will smoothly fill his shoes while keeping a lighthearted clubhouse.

Now for the other losses.

Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, Craig Kimbrel, Melvin Upton Jr., Tommy LaStella and Jordan Walden were all pawned off in trades while solid pieces such as Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang were allowed to walk in free agency.

Santana was busted with a drug-related suspension despite requiring an eight-figure salary, so he doesn’t matter. Harang is a replaceable veteran arm, who carried nothing more than minimal value.

LaStella was shipped to Chicago for former Brave Arodys Vizcaino, a high-upside arm, but he too was busted with a drug-related suspension. But LaStella was a middling prospect who has already been replaced by Jace Peterson, a guy with similar talent and more speed for the top of the order.

Ridding ourselves of Upton was a plus because he can’t stay on the field, and when he did find himself in centerfield, he struggled to keep his batting average above the Mendoza Line.

OK, now to the

good players.

One aspect we will desperately miss is the pop in the middle of the lineup from J. Upton and Gattis. Combining for 51 homeruns a year ago, we have replaced them with veteran Jonny Gomes and rookie Christian Bethancourt.

Neither replacement wins an award in the name-game, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be effective.

Gomes, as an everyday player, can hit 20 dingers while driving in 80+ runs depending on where he slots in the lineup. Bethancourt, former top 70 prospect according to Baseball America, isn’t known for his offense, but his glove behind the plate will be a considerable upgrade over Gattis.

And losing the best closer in baseball obviously hurts too, but with current closer Jason Grilli and former closer Jim Johnson as viable replacements, the back-end of our bullpen should produce near-similar numbers, with just a bit less flare.

So, yeah, I wouldn’t put us in the World Series conversation quite yet, maybe not even the NL East conversation, but when we’re hanging around in the second half, don’t be surprised. We have some unfamiliar faces, but a well-rounded roster with plenty guys looking to prove they belong in the show.