Posted By:Brett Haynes - Greenville, SC Tags:
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If you are a Braves fan (which I happen to be), then you will have to admit these are some of the better times in recent memory. Atlanta is 18-4 in their last 22 games, and have gone from 6.5 games back in the NL East, to leading the division by 1.5 games over defending NL champion, Philadelphia. Last night's 7-3 win was the eighth in a row for the Braves, and we all must wonder just how long this can last.
It all starts with pitching. We all remember the legendary rotations of the 90's where the Braves seemed to roll an all-star out to the mound with nearly every outing. Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and a cast of others helped lead the Braves to an unreal 14 straight division crowns, five World Series appearances, and a World Series title (1995). But in the last few seasons the ATL has had trouble finding a staff to get it done on a daily basis. That has changed in 2010, and is the reason the Braves find themselves in first place.
Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, and Derek Lowe have provided consistent good work, keeping the opposition at low numbers. Those three guys are 18-8 for Atlanta, combined, so far. The odd thing is that the other two starters - Kenshin Kawakami and Jair Jurjjens - are a combined 0-10. The reason is run support. Now that timely hitting has come around, many of the wasted performances of the early part of the year are turning into wins by these guys. Kawakami and Jurjjens will come around in the win column, but sometimes baseball is just weird in which pitchers get lucky with their run support by the offense, and which do not.
I don't want to jinx him, but the bullpen work of Billy Wagner has been huge for the Braves, and if there is any chance of a banner year, this must keep up. Wagner is 4-0 with eight saves and a 1.77 ERA right now. Fingers crossed on that one. This could be the most important part of what is going on, but tends to get lost at times. Just last night Wagner closed the door on the Phillies.
No matter how good that pitching is, without a few runs on the scoreboard, it all goes to waste, as mentioned above. The bats for Atlanta have awoken, and most particular the one of first baseman Troy Glaus. Glaus has been on a tear as of late, sparking the Braves last night with a 3-run bomb in the first inning off of all-star pitcher Cole Hamels. Glaus struggled early on, but is becoming now the kind of first basemen they need.
One of the best stories all season is that of second baseman Martin Prado. This guy is probably a no-name to most folks around the country, but with a .321 batting average, 27 RBIs, 99 total bases, and 39 runs scored, he should make the all-star team and start to get some publicity. He is a gamer, and he gets better by the day. He also has made just two errors in 139 fielding attempts.
Then there is Jason Heyward, the hometown phenom who is just 21 years old. In his rookie season, he has already gone deep ten times (on pace for 30+), has 38 RBIs, and is nearly batting .300. He is one of those players that draws an extra few thousand folks a night to the park just by himself.
Chipper Jones and Brian McCann are the two mainstays of the teams of past. They aren't having huge years, but they are having decent seasons and it is their clubhouse leadership that holds things together. These two guys are vocal in their actions more than their words, and you cannot put a pricetag on that. Jones was in a tough slump as of late, but homered on Monday and will have a big second half to the season, in my opinion. McCann can knock the cover off of the baseball, and I would love nothing more than to see him get hot!
To me, the Braves have two areas of concern: centerfield and shortstop. In center, Nate McLouth is batting a disgraceful .179 with three (yes, three) homers. Three dingers from your center-fielder doesn't spell post-season hardware to me. One thing McLouth has going for him is that he plays excellent defense with awesome range to the gaps and to deep center. I will just try to remind myself of this as he grounds out time after time from his eight spot in the lineup.
Yunel Escobar, meanwhile, is a great talent, but needs to keep his head on straight. He can be lackadaisical, and at times hurts his team with base-running errors or a bad fielding decision. But the thing about Escobar is that he is as talented as they come, and good leadership could give him a big season. He is currently batting .221 and it wouldn't bother me if he decided to pick things up a bit. He gets on my nerves with his ho-hum attitude, but I still know he is a talent.
And speaking of good leadership, this is where one must wonder if karma will play a role in the Atlanta skipper's final season. Bobby Cox is currently fouth all-time in wins, and has been the Braves manager since 1990. It is hard to imagine another man at the end of the Braves dugout, and I hope like crazy that this team can give him a solid exit from the game. He is one of my favorite managers ever to watch as I love seeing him stand up for his players to the point of getting tossed out of the game (153 times entering 2010, most ever). Sometimes I wonder if he gets tossed all of these times on purpose so he can go to his office in the clubhouse, kick off his shoes, and watch the game on TV! But in all seriousness, this is a player's coach if ever there was one, and umpires know if Bobby comes out, he is leaving with either the call overturned or him ejected!
There are still 31 games until the all-star break. There are 111 games still left overall. We are almost one third of the way through the regular season. So, as of right now, there is little reason to get too excited or too worried about what might go down the rest of the way. The Braves need to keep first place, and that will be tough. The NL Central or NL West will most-likely send the NL wild-card team, so Atlanta must continue to hope Philly and the Marlins lose as much as possible.
As Braves fans, we should just enjoy this streak. It will end at some point. Hell, now that I wrote about their hot-streak, it will probably end today! But I like the chemistry of this team, and I see more wins than losses in the future of this 2010 Braves squad. It's early in the year, but if you are a Braves fan, the excitement is as high as it has been in years!
Next game: 1:05 PM today at home vs Phillies
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