Tagged: Playoffs

Braves Heading Down The Home Stretch

With today’s 7-5 loss to the Mets the Braves now only have 9 games remaining in their season.

Today’s loss was very tough. Holding a 5-4 lead in the 8th inning we as Braves fans have become accustomed to Venters and Kimbrel making these scenarios automatic wins. To be honest we are quite spoiled in that respect. Not many other teams have a bullpen trio like ours and these types of things are bound to happen from time to time. When you have 3 guys at the back end of your bullpen who pitch as often as ours and they still all have era’s under 2.00, you really can’t complain.

Venters appeared to have some serious control issues today as the Mets didn’t even have to work that hard to push two runs across in that 8th inning. That of course was very frustrating but we have to look back and examine this game as a hole. There were several other issues that played into us losing this game.

It didn’t help that Beachy walked the pitcher with the bases loaded to force in a run. Which then of course set up Tejada’s 3 run double. Dillon Gee isn’t even a good hitting pitcher. They intentionally walked the 8th place hitter to get to the pitcher. There should have been no hesitation there when it came to throwing strikes. To be honest when Beachy threw a 2nd ball I was a little disappointed. There was no reason to go past a the first ball in my opinion. Just go right after him with the fastball, don’t even try to get cute. Even if he hits the ball, most likely it won’t be hit hard and your fielders can back you up.

Beachy has done a great job for us all year and I’m not in anyway trying to take anything away from the guy. However that was a critical mistake that you just don’t make. Those 4 runs were more then enough to make the difference in the game. If Gee strikes out there and Tejada never gets to bat, I find it hard to believe that we wouldn’t win that game.

Of course at this point in the season a Cardinals loss tonight would certainly make this loss a lot more bearable. Not that I wouldn’t have wanted to expand the Wild Card lead but at this point if we don’t give up any ground then it’s a very good thing. The Cardinals are back in Philly tonight and have the tough task of trying to beat a very good Phillies team. This of course only can work in our favor.

Now looking ahead to a few different scenarios. The worst possible one being that the Phillies win tonight and cut the lead to 3.5 games. Then they play on Thursday and were off, that’s the .5 game that has been throwing off the Wild Card standings thus far. Now if the Cardinals were to win that game as well, the lead would essentially be at 3.0 games with 9 to play for both teams.

Now I realize the Braves play 3 more games prior to the “catch up” game for the Cardinals but that would basically be the case. You can’t really argue with a 3 game lead with only 9 to play. We would just have to play solid baseball down the stretch. Nothing more and nothing less.

Now if the Cardinals were to loss tonight and loss that “catch up” game then we would essentially be 5 games ahead with only 9 to play. So there are a lot of scenarios to consider here as we head down the stretch.

The Marlins and Nationals usually give the Braves fits, especially on the road so we really need to step up to the plate and show that we want this thing. I’d prefer to TAKE the wild card away from the Cardinals then have them gift wrap it for us. I just think it would be nice to have some momentum going into the post season and not just stumble in.

So this week the Braves will need some help from the Mets and the Cubs. Hopefully they can play with some pride and give the Cardinals some tough games. The Mets clearly seem to still be into this season after getting ripped apart by their manager the other night. So I think they’ll come ready to play and we all know there is NO LOVE LOSS between the Cubs and Cardinals. I’d be anything that the Cubs would love nothing more then to help knock the Cardinals out of the playoff race.

Yes the Braves have the Phillies in the final series of the season, sounds familiar right? I believe that was the case last year when we were able to win on the last day of the season to clinch the Wild Card. The Phillies have already clinched the N.L East with PLENTY of time to spare. I think they’ll be in cruise control the rest of the way so I seriously doubt they will come into Atlanta the final 3 games and risk injury to their star players. That just wouldn’t be a smart move.

And if you’re feeling stressed about the Braves, just talk to a Boston fan. With their meltdown this weekend they are in an even tougher spot then us. That should make you feel better.

By: Bob McVinua

 

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Braves inch closer to playoffs..

At this point I’m not even sure what I should be saying as a Braves blogger. Should I stay positive and ride the train of “they’ll be fine” or do I sit here and say “Oh man the sky is falling in Atlanta”. I guess I just don’t see the point in being overly negative. Will being negative and bashing the team’s poor play really change anything? Probably not. All it will do is get me more riled up then I already am.

This team is not playing good baseball right now. Why? It’s really tough to say at this point. There are slumping players and poor pitching performances occurring more and more often. That could be it but I mean this team has over come all of those things this season. Is this the first time the offense has slumped? Is this the first time the pitching has faltered? Not at all.

However this is the first time that this team has not been able to figure out how to win games. Bad pitching or bad offense this team has always been able to figure out ways to win. It’s that simple. Right now this team appears to be in a free fall. You know the saying “when it rains, it pours?”. Well that’s the Braves right now. They are on sort of horrible slide right now and they just can’t seem to turn it around.

Will switching the order around help? It’s possible but I mean I’ve never heard of a World Series caliber team who switched their line up every single night. I think players need some consistency. These guys never know who’s playing, where they’ll be playing or in what spot in the order they’ll be hitting in.

As we search for answers I think that we will find ourselves beating a dead horse. I could write 40 more paragraphs telling you that the Braves aren’t playing good baseball. But the only way they can fix this thing is to start winning games. YES! It’s that simple. String together a few wins. Right now they are going to the ball park expecting to lose and hoping to win. Let me say that again. They are going to the ball park expecting to lose and hoping to win. You can’t have that type of attitude in professional sports.

I think the critical stretch for the Braves comes this weekend against the Mets. Braves will be playing a weaker division team at home, while the Cardinals will have to travel to Philadelphia for a 4 game set.

This stretch is crucial for 2 reasons. One the match up for the Braves is much better. I’d much rather play the Mets at home who are putting a AAA line up out on the field every night then go to Philadelphia to face the Phillies great pitching staff. Look at what the Phillies did to the Brewers. That should say it all. We have a very favorable match up where we can win 2/3. I doubt the Cardinals will win more then 1 game in their series.

The second reason this weekend is big is because the Cardinals will make up some ground on the schedule. Where will that “half” game that’s lingering in the standings go? Will the lead bounce up to a 5 or down to 4? Or where ever it may be at the time. I’d love to have that half game turn into a full game with a Cardinals lose this weekend.

I think we need to win the next 2 in Florida and then see where were at. Mike Minor is on the hill tonight. Hopefully he’ll give us a solid effort. That’s all we can hope for.

By: Bob McVinua

 

 

Braves Fans Beginning To Panic?

This is a rarity for me as a writer. I never write my blog entries the night before I post them. Yet here I am at 12:20 at night sitting in front of my computer screen writing an article for Chop Talk. It’s a Saturday night and I can’t even think about anything else because of the Braves loss tonight. The point of my articles are to always try and put a positive spin on things when it comes to Braves baseball. You can go anywhere on the internet and read negative articles about everything from sports to politics. But what good does that really do us? When has being negative ever helped any situation?

One of the best quotes I’ve ever read was this: “Life is not about what happens to you but how you react to it”. Your reaction can make bad situation worse or it can make it better. At the end of the day this is just sports and we all know that. But at the same time it’s a passion of ours. We are die hard Atlanta Braves fans and we want what’s best for our team and we get frustrated when things don’t go the way we had hoped.

This is when the team needs us the most. This is when fans need to stand up in adversity and show that they will support their team through thick and thin. I’m sure none of my readers feel this way but I’ve been on several Braves sites tonight and saw tons of comments referencing the Braves missing the playoffs. Saying that this was going to be a horrible choke from the Atlanta Braves. I realize that the Wild Card lead has slipped from 8.5 games down to 5.5 games and I’m well aware of the fact that the Braves aren’t playing great baseball right now.

But at the end of the day they’re 5.5 games up in the Wild Card race with a little over 2 weeks to go in the season. That’s really not a horrible spot to be in. If someone told us that the Braves would be where they are today back in April we all would have been thrilled. Look at all the teams that are completely out of it, which by now is the vast majority of both leagues. Teams like the Orioles, Royals, Pirates, Dodgers, Padres, Cubs, Blue Jays, etc are all out of it. So many other teams are as well.

And it’s not like we’re the only team that’s getting a scare right now. I’m sure Texas isn’t too happy with their lead in the A.L West which has almost completely evaporated. Or how about the big bad Red Sox who hold a smaller Wild Card lead then the Braves. I’m sure that they aren’t feeling so great about themselves either. Were not the only team that’s experiencing a late season slide is all I’m saying.

The Braves have one more game against the Cardinals. Tim Hudson is pitching and right now he’s probably the best guy we have so I’m feeling fairly confident. If we can win tomorrow then we leave St. Louis with a 6.5 game lead in the Wild Card and will only have 15 games left to play. That’s not such a bad deal. It would basically come down to us playing .500 baseball the rest of the way.

The Braves will be opposed by the Marlins and Mets this week, both series will be played at home. I’m sure this team is dying to get back to Atlanta so they can settle in and start playing good baseball again. I’ll say the Braves win 4 of 6 from the Marlins and Mets. Who could argue with that prediction?

The Cardinals will make a trip to Philadelphia at the end of this week for a 4 game set. That could potentially be a 4 game sweep but I’ll predict that Philadelphia will take 3 of 4 which would still help the Braves tremendously. So in that respect I think were in decent shape. We will all have to swallow our pride and root for the Phillies next weekend as it’s in the best interest of the club.

Baseball is a tough game. It’s so different then all the other sports because of the length of the season. In the first half the Braves pitching was so dominant and that almost seems like a different year to me. Jurrjens is hurt and so is Hanson. Lowe is horrible and that leaves a ton of pressure on Tim Hudson to carry this staff. The young guys have pitched well though.

Dan Uggla has turned his season around. Chipper is swinging the bat well. Freeman has emerged into a great player. So many things happen during the course of 162 games. And the thought of having to go through all that and still miss the playoffs is the worst feeling in the world. Baseball fans cheer their team on and get wrapped up in the games EVERY SINGLE night. Football fans deal with it once a week, there’s a huge difference.

I’m going to go on record and say that I firmly believe that the Braves will still make the post season. It’s not a guarantee and I know if they don’t I will be mocked for the entire off season but I’ll take that chance. Baseball is a funny game but the Braves just need to get back into the swing of things. Right now they’re playing a little too loose and their focus just doesn’t seem to be there. I think with the lead at only 5.5 games it will help wake them up a little bit.

Let’s get through tomorrow Braves fans and then head back home. This will all be a decent memory in a few days. Tomorrow’s game does have big implications. It’s the difference between a 3 game sweep and the Cardinals only gaining 1 game in the standings. Hudson needs to come up big and I think he will.

We’ll get through this. I’m just as frustrated as you guys are but deep down I believe things will turn out alright. This team has over come adversity this entire season. This is no different.

By: Bob McVinua

 

Kimbrel Falters But Braves Still Playoff Bound

I know last nights loss was a tough one to swallow. Always remember that I’m a die hard Braves fan just like you guys and the loss hurt me too. Last night the Braves took a 3-1 lead into the 9th inning and handed the ball over to their most trusted reliever. Kimbrel was on a very impressive scoreless innings streak when he entered the game last night and with 2 outs and a 3-1 lead still in tact it appeared that the streak might continue.

Well Albert Pujols had other ideas as a nailed a base hit that would score runs 2 and 3 for the Cardinals, tying the the ball game and leaving the Braves stunned. I know it’s natural to be upset with Kimbrel right now. The finger pointing always goes in the direction of the guy who didn’t do his job at the moment of the loss. That’s the laws of baseball and there’s no way around it. But as fans we need to remember all of the times that Kimbrel DID indeed shut the door. Besides his early struggles, Kimbrel has been lights out almost the entire year. Him and Venters have created one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball history. All of those things need to be remembered when get upset over a tough loss. Braves fans have been very spoiled when it comes to the back end of the bullpen, a lot of teams are not so fortunate.

I’m not here to make excuses for Craig Kimbrel because if he knew this article was being written I can guarantee he would tell me not to defend him. But I’m going to choose to be sensible now that I’ve had a night to sleep on it. This has been a very tough week for this Atlanta Braves ball club. They started the week in Philadelphia playing a big series and got swept. Then they were supposed to have a day off which then turned into a double header in New York. Going from a day off to a double header is a big difference. It was 2 extra plan ride that this team probably didn’t feel like taking after they got swept in Philadelphia. These guys must be exhausted. There’s no question about it. I think they played very well last night and they deserved to win that ball game, they just couldn’t shut the door. It happens to best of them. Even the great Mariano Rivera has blown some saves this year that I bet the Yankees wish they could have back. But at the end of the day, they know he’s Mariano Rivera and that he’s going to get it done 05% of the time if not more. That’s what the Braves have in Craig Kimbrel.

I’m not trying to down play the loss. One pitch by Kimbrel and one hit by Pujols changed the out look of the Wild Card standings by 2 full games. One swing, two games. That’s a lot. The lead could be 8.5 right now but instead it sits at 6.5. The Braves have less room for error but they are professionals and they have to deal with it.

Tony LaRussa was quoted as saying “I feel like we have to win this game” (quote regarding today’s game). To me that says it all. There’s less then 20 games left in the season and the Braves are sitting ona 6.5 game lead. Who’s the pressure really on here? Not us. Were not the one that has to make up 6.5 games in the standings with a little over 2 weeks left in the season. That’s not a spot I’d like to be in.

One positive is that the Cardinals travel to Philadelphia on Friday to start a 4 game set. That will be a very tough series for the Cardinals and could be a chance for the Braves to pad their wild card lead a little bit as they head into the final stretch of the season. Granted the Braves play the Phillies the last series of the year but it’s at home and with such a big lead it’s possible the Phillies won’t go all out to win those games as they won’t risk injury to critical players.

I still like the Braves to make the playoffs. I think time and the schedule is on our side. We need to win 1 game in St. Louis. I’d certainly prefer to win more then that but I think that will get the job done. Winning just one in this series would set us up with a 6.5 game lead with 15 games left in the regular season. The Cardinals would play 16 remaining games as they are one off the pace, hence the .5 game.

Have faith Braves fans. I think we can do this. A big audition game for Derek Lowe tonight. He blew the chance to shine in Philadelphia but he could make up for it here. If he can’t put together a solid outing against St. Louis then I don’t know how Fredi Gonzalez will be able to put him in the playoff rotation. Sept Lowe is running out of time to show he still has the stuff to get the job done.

By: Bob McVinua

 

Braves Look To Cage Up The Cardinals

Alright. As promised we can get back to the most important topic in baseball, the Atlanta Braves. There’s a big game tonight against the Cardinals on the road in St. Louis. Although both teams are facing a good amount of pressure in this series I’d say that the majority of the pressure rests on the shoulders of the Cardinals. After all, were not chasing them. They are the team that’s 7.5 games out with 18 games left to play. In my opinion the Cardinals need to sweep this series to really challenge the Braves down the stretch and for the Braves I think 2 out of 3 should do the trick. Head to head meetings are where playoff spots are won or lost this late in the season. Yes the Cardinals face an up hill battle the rest of the way but they can certainly make life a lot easier if they could sweep this 3 game set.

For the Braves I think it’s all about taking 2 out of 3 and just making another statement. If this team wins the series then they will have gained 1 full game in the standings and more importantly knocked off 3 more games from their remaining schedule. For the Braves there’s no where to go. They aren’t going to win the division and the wild card team is always guaranteed the 4th seed in the post season and no chance at home field advantage. The Braves are in a spot where they just need to win games and focus on themselves. It doesn’t matter what the Phillies are doing. It doesn’t matter what the D-Backs or Brewers are doing. This team needs tunnel vision right now.

21 year old Randall Delgado will take the mound tonight for the Bravos and were hoping to see some good things from him. In his last start against the Giants he actually carried a no hitter into the late innings so we’ll be hoping for more of the same tonight. The Cardinals line up as a lot more offensive threats in it compared to the slumping Giants line up that Delgado faced last month. So it should certainly be a big test for the very talented young man.

Honestly this is the moment I’ve been anxious about for the past week or so. We need to avoid the sweep which would be a complete disaster. We can’t have a repeat of what happened in Philadelphia. A sweep would bring that 7.5 game lead down to just 4.5 and with 18 games left that could get a little dicey.

I am also noticing that Fredi Gonzalez is falling into a tough spot. One that might be corrected after this series. He’s on the fence between being inĀ  place where he can rest players and prepare for the playoffs and a place where his playoff chances are being threatened. A very difficult place for a manager to be in. A team like the Phillies can start resting some guys and experimenting a little before the playoffs start. A team like the Cardinals knows that it’s all or nothing right now and that they have to do whatever it takes to make the playoffs.

Which spot is Fredi Gonzalez in? I think he’s caught right in the middle. If the Braves were to sweep this serious, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Then the Braves would hold a VERY comfortable 10.5 game lead and could then start to rest some players and figure out their playoff rotation.

Venters looks exhausted. I’ve never seen him with such control problems before and the last thing we want is to have him worn out and in affective for the post season. The bullpen is by far our biggest strength. The ability to shorten games could be the reason we make a run at the World Series. When you play the Atlanta Braves you’re playing a 6 inning game. That’s extremely intimidating and causes teams to press a lot harder in the earlier innings because they are afraid of not having the lead by the middle of the ball game.

By: Bob McVinua

Is Cruise Control Enough For The Braves?

So your driving down the high way as you embark on a long road trip. You see miles and miles of road ahead of you. You think to yourself what a long trip this is going to be and how you will surly be exhausted by the end you. You decide that you are not up for changing speeds constantly while you driving so you decide to put the car on cruise control and just relax for a little bit. Sure you won’t be able to pass many people or make any aggressive moves but the cruise control will help you rest up and get some of your stamina back. Sounds like a good plan right?

Well meet the 2011 Atlanta Braves are experiencing their own little joy ride as they have put their season on cruise control. Let’s just hope that the season ends before their car runs out of gas. To me that’s the exact scenario that we find ourselves in as Braves fans. We are literally counting down the games until the end of the season. You all know how much I love the game of baseball and how much I enjoy watch games. No, not right now. I have a calender in my house that I’m using to count down the days until the regular season ends. I can’t wait for this madness to be over. The games are no longer enjoyable and are coming with the price tag of high anxiety and stress. Yes, maybe my love for the Braves is a little unhealthy but isn’t that what happens to us as fans?

If you picture yourself driving in that same car. You look down and your gas tank is almost on empty and you have no idea where the nearest gas station is. You decide to just ride it out and pray that you make it to your destination before you run out of gas. That’s all the Braves are doing right now. They appear to be hoping that the season ends while they still have at least a 1.0 game lead in the Wild Card.

Now this is where I will attempt to calm Tomahawk Nation. I think that’s why most people read my post anyways. They are looking for answers and they are looking for my thoughts on certain situations that occur. Well my thoughts are as follows.

Were no longer chasing anyone. All were doing is trying to keep ourselves a float. Nothing more and nothing less. The Phillies hold a 10.5 game lead in the division with 20 games left to play. The N.L East is over and done with. The Wild Card is our only hope of making the playoffs so we need to treat that opportunity like gold. No more chasing, which I think is a better mind set. We need to realize that we’re the team to beat in the WILD CARD. Other teams like St. Louis and San Fran are chasing us. We need to win ball games to try and reach our magic number.

The Braves hold a 6.5 game lead in the N.L Wild Card. I know that were complaining about it as our nerves are getting the better of us, myself included. I can’t even begin to think about how I’d feel if we blew this lead and missed the playoffs after a 162 game grind that sent us on emotional swings that resembled a roller coaster. However let’s consider this. The Boston Red Sox hold just a 7.0 game lead over Tampa Bay for the A.L Wild Card. Yes, the unstoppable World Series projected champions are really only a .5 game better off then our Braves right now. That should give us a little comfort as our lead is fairly healthy considering the amount of games left.

We could be the Angels right now. A very talented team that is desperately trying to chase down the Texas Rangers for possibly the final playoff spot in the A.L. At least we are in control of our own destiny. We don’t need anyone else to lose games, we just need to win games. The pressure is on the Cardinals right now. They can’t afford to lose any games.

Brandon Beachy was outstanding last night. For a young pitcher to go into such hostile territory this late in the season and pitch so well, to me that’s a greatĀ  sign. Beachy I believe has earned himself a spot in the playoff rotation no matter who is healthy. Hudson and Beachy deserve to be in there. Who else is in there is still up for grabs. I’m hoping it’s Hanson but his healthy is out of our control right now and we kind of have to see what happens.

Today is a great opportunity to turn things around. It’s a chance to collect 2 wins in just 1 day and after today we’ll only have 18 games left in the season with hopefully AT LEAST a 6.5 game lead over the Cardinals and hopefully it expands some. Could be a big confidence boost for this team.

The biggest series remaining for this club is not the series against Philadelphia. After the 2 games in New York we head to St. Louis for a CRUCIAL 3 game set. If we win 2/3 in that series then I believe the Wild Card will be ours. That’s truly what I believe needs to happen. People in Tomahawk Nation are also thinking the worst. Yes if the Cardinals sweep us then were going to be in big trouble down the stretch but what if we sweep them? If we sweep that series in St. Louis then the Wild Card will pretty much be wrapped up at that point. I think we need to make a statement in that series. If we can leave St. Louis with a 7 or 8 game lead in the Wild Card with 15 games left on the schedule I will feel pretty good about things.

The Braves have lost 5 of their last 6 games and our very fortunate that we didn’t get swept by the Dodgers as well. This team doesn’t have to 18-2 down the stretch to make the playoffs. But we also can’t afford to go 2-18 either. I think going 10-10 will be enough and that’s why you work so hard to build a lead like we have late in the season, it takes a little bit of the pressure off during the stretch run.

What I don’t recommend is that the Braves continue to play with this sleep look in their eyes. Half the time they look like they are completely out of it. I’m not sure why to be honest. I guess it’s just them being a little too comfortable and looking ahead to the playoffs? They certainly have taken their foot of the gas and they do need to up their intensity just a little bit.

Have no fear Braves fans. As it sits right now I can’t see the Braves missing the playoffs. 10-10 down the stretch will get the job done and then records are out the window. We have very little to play for other then the Wild Card because once you receive that 4th seed in the playoffs you can’t have home field advantage no matter how good your record is. So these loses really aren’t costing them anything unless they miss the playoffs all together, which I’m going to go on record saying this team gets in without too much of a problem.

Like I said before this team needs to win 2/3 from St. Louis and they’ll be alright. This team won’t get swept again for the rest of the season. Come on Braves fans let’s believe in the team that’s 82-60.

By: Bob McVinua

 

 

Why 2011 Could End Differently

2010 was a great year for our Atlanta Braves. We had been absent from the playoffs since 2005 and just making the postseason was a great feeling. The expectations this year are very different for this team, at least they are in my opinion. Last year making the playoffs was a victory in itself and we were happy to be back in the mix of competitive ball clubs. This year I’m looking for a World Series to come to Atlanta.

Is this a far fetched dream? Or is it a very possible reality? Lets take a closer look and see how this years team compared to last years playoff squad. I think by the time you get to the end of the article you’ll see that we do have some distinct advantages that were missing last season.

1) Derek Lee played 1st base during last years playoffs. Yes Derek Lee has a great glove over at 1st base and made a great scoop play to save us game 2 in San Fran. Although he had some good moments with the glove, Lee was basically shut down at the plate. Derek Lee had just 2 hits in 16 at bats against the Giants giving him a horrible batting average of .125. He struck out 6 times and didn’t drive in a single run. I’d be willing to take bets that Freddie Freeman can hit over .125 and manage to drive in more then 0 runs at the plate. Derek Lee was brought in to bring some pop to the offense but it really didn’t turn out the way Frank Wren had hoped it would. Freeman gives us a much better chance to win. His bat has a lot more pop in it then Lee’s and I like that he’s a lefty. He’s just one of several guys who can protect McCann in the line up.

2) Brooks Conrad won’t be playing on a regular basis. Injuries hurt the Braves down the stretch and forced them to play Brooks Conrad at crucial points in the game. I know that you can’t blame 1 player for a team’s failed playoff performance but I do put a good portion of blame on Conrad. He had 3 errors in game 3 against the Giants. 1 of those errors was in the 9th inning with 1 out and a chance to help put the Giants away. He botched a ground ball and the flood gates just opened. His error on the pop fly also resulted in a Giants run. Those 2 runs were the difference between a win and a loss.

3) Dan Uggla. People can say what they want about his batting average but frankly I don’t care. I had a big issue with it being under .200 don’t get me wrong we all have standards. However if Uggla can finish with a batting average of .250 or so I’d be fine with that. The guy brings some series pop to this line up and gives McCann the protection that he didn’t have in last years playoffs. Having 2 big bats in the 3 and 4 spots is critical, especially when one is lefty and the other hits from the right side. Uggla has the potential to go yard at any given moment. That scares teams. And it should. Late in the game Uggla could provide a big blast that wins us the game.

4) Michael Bourn. This guy brings an element to this team that we’ve been lacking for way to long. SPEED. This guy can flat out fly. He can score from first with ease on a double in the gap. He can beat out infield hits. He can steal bases. He poses a threat to starting pitchers because they MUST keep an eye on him at all times. With Bourn hitting at the top of the order this offense becomes a lot more dangerous. Runs are tough to come by in the post season and he’s the type of player who can help us manufacture runs in a tight ball game.

5) Chipper and Martin Prado. These guys were both injured during the playoffs last year. I know I mentioned that Brooks Conrad was forced to play everyday because of injuries but this goes beyond Conrad having to play. When these guys are in the line up they provide something special. Chipper has proven that he can still tear the cover off the baseball. Prado is a great number 2 hitter who almost always puts the ball in play. He can get big hits if he needs to and he also has the bat control to just move the run over in a crucial spot.

6) The bullpen. Last years bullpen was decent but this years bullpen is record breaking. O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel are the most feared bullpen trio in the major leagues. All of these guys have era’s under 2.00. How often does that happen? Wagner did a great job for us last year but he was clearly on his way out. This is a new group of guys who have all been with the team since opening day. They know their roles as they have been clearly defined. Last year Kimbrel was forced to come in and close game 3 of the divisional series. It didn’t go his way partially because he wasn’t expecting to be the closer. If Wagner hadn’t gotten hurt then he wouldn’t even have been out there in the first place. Being able to shorten games in the playoffs could be the difference between the Braves going home early or sticking around for a World Series run.

There are questions about the starting rotation. That’s the one thing that is kind of concerning right now. While no one can guarantee that the rotation will be ready to go in full force by Oct, there’s also no one who can guarantee that they won’t be. It’s a wait and see type of situation which I know is unsettling for Braves fans.

Derek Lowe will take the mound tonight in Philadelphia for a big Sept start. This is Lowe’s month to shine and hopefully he will. A solid outing and a Braves victory tonight would make us all feel better about Lowe.

The one thing this rotation does have is depth. Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy are all capable of making a start in the playoffs. I’d prefer to have a healthy Jurrjens or Hanson in there but you can’t complain when you have 6 very talented options to choose from.

The only questions left to be answered are with the rotation. Will Derek Lowe turn things around and return to his usual late season dominance? And will Hanson and/or Jurrjens return to form to help this team make a World Series run. Only time will tell.

By: Bob McVinua