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When Chipper Jones retired following last season, the Atlanta Braves had a huge void to fill at third base and in their lineup. For nearly 20 years, Jones was a stalwart for the Braves and replacing him with just one player would be no easy task.

The Braves inked B.J. Upton to a four-year deal this past winter and a few weeks later traded for B.J.’s brother Justin Upton. The Uptons certainly could provide an offensive jolt, but neither filled the void at third base.


Chipper Jones left some big shoes to fill
Photo by Bortescristian, used under creative commons license.

Atlanta sent super-utility man Martin Prado, highly-touted pitching prospect Randall Delgado and three minor leaguers to the Diamondbacks, who threw in third baseman Chris Johnson in order to have a serviceable body to fill the void left by Jones.

Johnson was coming off a decent year split between the Houston Astros and the Diamondbacks. In 2012, Johnson hit .281 with 15 home runs and 76 RBI -- not exactly Chipper Jones-type numbers but nothing to balk at nonetheless.

Justin Upton was naturally supposed to be the centerpiece of the blockbuster trade, and for the first few months of this season, he certainly was, as he was the league-leader in home runs for a good stretch.

He still has good overall numbers at .269, 23 home runs and 62 RBIs, but Johnson has emerged as much more than a throw-in role player.

Immediately from the start of this season, Johnson has been red hot and has not cooled off one bit. After starting the year in a platoon with the left-handed swinging Juan Francisco, Johnson emerged as the everyday man, and he’s actually leading the NL with a .335 batting average.

Johnson has never been touted as a power hitter but still has nine home runs. He’s also driven in 53 runs hitting in several different positions in the Braves lineup.

Recently, Johnson set a Braves record with a streak of eight consecutive games with two or more hits. Keep in mind that this is a franchise that has had players like Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Dale Murphy and Jones, yet it was Johnson who set this record.

The Braves are racing away with the NL East division crown, and Johnson has been a huge part of that success. The team’s pitching always seems to be good, but this year the team has received offensive contributions from pretty much all of its starters -- except B.J. Upton, who has struggled to the tune of a .188 batting average, eight home runs and just 21 RBIs. Dan Uggla is only hitting .186, but at least he’s provided 21 long balls.

Maybe the protection Johnson has received in the batting order from Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann, Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons has allowed him to flourish this year.

Or maybe it was just the chance to play every day. He was mostly a platoon player the last few seasons, but he has thrived playing every day in Atlanta.

The playoffs are looking like a sure thing for the Braves, but in order to avoid looking like the Braves of 90s -- make the playoffs and collapse -- Atlanta will need Johnson to continue swinging a hot bat in October.