Braves At 100 Games: A Division Champ, Probably, and Nothing More

Let’s talk Braves baseball…

After tonight’s wretched loss to the lowly New York Mets, the Atlanta Braves are a hundred games into the season.  We’re well past the halfway point, and the trade deadline’s about a week away.  And here’s what we know…

Barring a colossal collapse, the Braves will win the National League East.  I mean, even with a loss tonight, they’re SEVEN games up on Philadelphia, who look to be selling off key players within the next seven days, and EIGHT up on the Nats.  Okay, so that’s the good news.

Dan Uggla, probably stewing over one of his record-pacing strikeouts.

Dan Uggla, probably stewing over one of his record-pacing strikeouts.

Lemme stick ya with the bad.  Atlanta’s offense is … offensive.  And organizationally, they’ll point to injuries.  Okay, I’ll give you the time missed by Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann, Evan Gattis and Justin Upton, here and there; but even WITH those guys, this line up is deeply flawed.  They’re on pace for racking up historic strikeout numbers, for one thing.  B.J. Upton has been a bust.  I mean, when a “waiver wire” pick up like Jordan Schafer is a more attractive option than the guy you signed to the biggest contract in franchise history – something’s wrong.  When the guy making more money this year than B.J. Upton – a guy by the name of Dan Uggla – is hitting right AT .200 – albeit with some power – you have to ask yourselves, as an organization, what is our offensive ideology?

Because I gotta tell ya … as a lifelong fan, I’ve seen these high-power, low-average Braves’ teams get to the postseason on the strength of their pitching most of their historic run, and they have one ring to show for it.

And let’s be honest; this pitching staff has put up pretty solid numbers so far – but there’s no Glavine or Maddox or Smoltz on that rotation.  And the bullpen is a shell of its former self.  Credit where it’s due, it’s still been pretty darn good, despite losing Venters and O’Flaherty and Christian Martinez.  But you have to wonder when that dam bursts.

Even the rotation gives cause for concern.  Kris Medlen isn’t right.  He swears before tonight’s start he found a “flaw in his delivery.”  Maybe he has; or maybe he realizes once Brandon Beachy’s back, he’s the odd-man-out.  Paul Maholm has been terrible most of the last two months, and Alex Wood, the UGA phenom, will fill in while he’s gone.  And if he does what he’s shown he’s capable of doing, he’s not going anywhere.  Julio Teheran is either brilliant or mediocre, but that will improve as time goes on.  And I’d say we’re two more quality starts, back-to-back, from Tim Hudson, before we pronounce him back in his groove.

Listen, getting to the playoffs looks like an easy road, and despite the Braves having 13 games left against Philly and 9 against the Nats, I think they’ll sew up the division.  But once they’re there, Braves’ fans … are YOU confident in this team beating anybody?  ‘Cause I’m on record as saying “I’m not.”

Playoff teams usually have 1, maybe 2 – LOCKDOWN starters.  The Braves have none.  Playoff teams usually have 1, maybe 2 – hits-for-average “on base percentage” machines.  The Braves have Freddie and the under-appreciated Christ Johnson, and it tails off steeply after them.  Playoff teams usually have that one guy in the lineup others would try to pitch around if they can.   Do the Braves have even ONE guy in their lineup that strikes fear in an opposing pitcher?  Ehhhh.

This team has shown – on the rarest of occasions – that it can manufacture runs when needed.  And that’s what’s it gonna take for the Braves to win a playoff series.  They play what I call “Bobby ball” now.  Pitch well and look for that one big inning or bomb with a runner on to carry the offense.  This team isn’t built well to do that, but they’re still playing that ideology out on the field.

And whether it’s B.J. Upton or Jordan Schafer who Fredi Gonzalez chooses to be the everyday guy – that guy has to set the table.  Get on base; wreak havoc on the base path and distract pitchers.  That’s what makes Jason Heyward more dangerous at the plate.  Andrelton Simmons, too, needs to use his God-given speed to drop the occasional bunt and scramble onto first now and then.  He got the taste of the “home run” trots, early on in his career, and now he seems addicted.  That’s not his strength.

And lastly, the only thing I question Fredi Gonzalez about is: why is he hitting Chris Johnson so low in the order all the time?  He’s the only guy on the team hitting over .300 all year – and he’s almost always hitting 7th or 8th.  What gives?

Outside of that, Fredi Gonzalez deserves “manager of the year” consideration.  Because if you’d told me that this late into the season the Upton brothers would be hitting .250 or less, both of ‘em, with one suffering from a deep power outage since the first month, and the other just looking lost at the plate PERIOD, and you’d told me Heyward would be hitting in the low 200s and that Tim Hudson and Kris Medlen would have their struggles and we’d be without Venters AND O’Flaherty .. I’d guess this team would be mired in third place, fighting to stay out of fourth and well under .500.

Instead, they’re 12 games over .500 and hold the division by 7 full games.  Admit it, fans; Fredi’s done a pretty darn good job, given what he’s had to work with, hasn’t he?

I’m just saying … if they wanna be satisfied just winning a division, they should be pleased.  But Braves’ fans, since 1991, have grown weary of “just” getting there.  This team will have to address its offensive issues or that’s all they’ll get.

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