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According to plan: Offseason moves paying dividends

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Seeds for the 2013 season that were sown in the winter are coming into bloom all over the Majors in the spring, as the steady stream of 162 games begins to reveal how well offseason moves are working out.

In Kansas City, a rotation upgrade is cranking out what the Royals hoped it would -- innings and wins. In Atlanta, a new brother act has helped ignite the Braves' hot start. And in Boston, an attitude adjustment seems to be making all the difference in the world.

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Of course, this represents only a small part of the season -- and only part of the story. In places like Los Angeles and Toronto, offseason plans haven't quite gotten the foothold teams would have liked by now, with health a big part of the problem.

It's early enough that there's still time to make up ground after April stumbles, but it's not too early to find ample evidence of what has gone right for the teams thriving in the wake of a winter of change.

The Royals and their suddenly veteran-rich pitching staff are a fine example, battling the ferocious Tigers atop the American League Central standings deep into April. The biggest reason: starting pitching, the one thing Kansas City focused on this past offseason, figuring a strong and steady staff would be just the ticket to go alongside what's maturing into an impressive offensive lineup.

Truth is, that lineup has yet to find its way, but the pitching the Royals have received from James Shields, Wade Davis and Co. makes up for whatever shortfalls the team has had thus far at the plate.

"We're in first place and haven't even gotten going offensively yet," Kansas City manager Ned Yost said earlier this week. "But the pitching is carrying us right now, and there'll be times when the offense will carry us."

The Royals' mission, as stated by general manager Dayton Moore, is to get 1,000 innings out of their starters, and they're marching toward that goal thus far. Through the first 17 games, Kansas City was averaging slightly more than 6 1/3 innings per start, the benchmark for breaking the 1,000-innings plateau over 162 games.

All you need to know about how well things are going in Atlanta is a glance at the standings -- the Braves have a Major League-high 15 victories. But a display at Coors Field the other day was more evidence that, so far at least, the Braves' efforts to turn Atlanta into a city of brotherly love are working out just dandy.

For the first time since the Braves brought on free agent B.J. Upton and then brother Justin Upton via a trade with Arizona, the Brothers Upton whacked back-to-back homers on Tuesday -- actually, a brotherly feat that hadn't been accomplished in 75 years, since Lloyd and Paul Waner of Hall of Fame fame. And the back-to-back feat comes after hitting a game-tying (B.J.) and game-winning (Justin) homer in the same inning earlier in the year.

"They make your lineup a lot better," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of the Upton brothers, who have picked up the slack with Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann missing significant time.

Justin, in particular, has been phenomenal in his new uniform, knocking 11 home runs in his first 21 games after hitting 17 in 150 games with the D-backs a year ago.

"You come into the season with a new team trying to fit in and just try to be a part of a team that was already good," Justin Upton said. "I can't put a thumb on why I've hit the way I have. I just have to continue to work and try to keep it up."

In Boston, the 2012 season was a complete wash, with Bobby Valentine lasting one year as manager and the club sending most of its high-priced talent to the Dodgers in an August waiver deal. But the Red Sox went about the business of changing the culture in the clubhouse and in the dugout, luring John Farrell back from Toronto to be the team's manager and bringing in well-known fiery competitors as free agents.

One of those guys is Mike Napoli, who enjoyed his first huge Fenway Park moment earlier this week with a grand slam and now has 26 RBIs in the team's first 21 games. With David Ortiz back and providing more of a presence in front of him, Napoli's making himself at home in the heart of Boston's order.

"With David hitting in front of him now ... I'm not going to say that makes opposing pitchers pitch differently to him, but he feels very comfortable in this ballpark," Farrell said of Napoli, who has enjoyed hitting at Fenway his entire career and came to town along with Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes and Ryan Dempster in the offseason.

Added catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia: "That's a tough guy to pitch around. I know -- we tried for years."

These aren't the only teams reaping the benefits of their offseason maneuvers -- the Rangers' winter of change is working out OK, and the Reds like their addition of Shin-Soo Choo, for a couple of examples. On the other hand, some teams that are thriving really didn't do a whole lot in the offseason -- like the Rockies and the Orioles and the Cardinals.

For some who were particularly bold in the offseason, the fruits of the winter have yet to emerge. The Blue Jays' season obviously took a painful turn with Jose Reyes' ankle injury, as did the Dodgers' with Zack Greinke's broken collarbone. The Angels aren't getting the bang for their buck since their huge Josh Hamilton signing, either, and the revamped roster in Cleveland has yet to take off, a trip to the DL for Michael Bourn not helpful.

But in Kansas City, in Atlanta, in Boston and in other cities around the Majors, change is bringing something to the surface in 2013 -- an early bloom of hope and confidence.

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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