Place your bets at the window and take your seats. It’s time to watch the Braves as they come roaring down the stretch.
Atlanta has been playing great baseball throughout the season and, with the addition of Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson just before Tuesday’s trade deadline, now have all of their pieces set to make a run at the postseason.
So, how have the Braves put themselves in good position to make their first playoff appearance in two years? Mostly, they’ve been able to do a little bit of everything right.
Atlanta has received solid starting pitching from Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson for most of the season and a revitalized Ben Sheets has picked up the slack where Mike Minor and Randal Delgado have fallen short. The bullpen remains one of the best in baseball. The defense has been above average, and will only get better when Andrelton Simmons returns from the disabled list. Even the hitting — which figured to be biggest question mark in 2012 — has stepped up and put up some big numbers when needed.
The only thing keeping the Braves from first place right now is the Nationals’ similarly stellar play and the fact that all of the Braves’ assets haven’t been able to be going strong at the same time.
But just two months remain in the season and there are far more teams already left in the Braves’ dust than there are teams to climb above in the standings. Atlanta, which was only a dark horse pick by many to find a way into the postseason at the beginning of the year, now has the inside track for a playoff berth and has its eyes set on catching Washington in the NL East.
Of course, as the summer heat starts to wear off and more teams drop out of the playoff chase, the Braves will undoubtedly have to battle another major demon. At this time last season, Atlanta was in a very similar position, trailing a surging first-place team in its division, but holding a comfy lead in the Wild Card standings. This season should offer even more insurance with the inclusion of a second Wild Card, but nobody — Braves players included — will be forgetting the epic late collapse of 2011 anytime soon.
Atlanta teamed up with the Boston Red Sox to produce two of the biggest chokes in history last season, and with the Braves once again in the hunt for the playoffs, nightmares of last September have to pop into players’ heads every once in a while.
The key for the Braves right now is to do their best to just block everything out.
It’s been a long time since the Braves have been a postseason force and last season still stings for players and fans alike, but this is 2012 and it looks like a whole new ballgame heading down the stretch.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.