Friday, July 17, 2009

Atlanta and The NL East

Can the Atlanta Braves win the National League East? Yes, but not if things stay the same in the tee pee. After defeating division rival New York last night, the Braves are 44-45, six games behind the Phillies, with the season half over. They also trail the Giants by 5 1/2 games in the wild card race. Not insurmountable margins by any means, and they have won 10 of their last 15 games. But certain performances have to change. One of those changes must be Chipper getting hot and carrying this team during a crucial period down the stretch. In other words, Chipper has to start being Chipper. Nate McClouth must pick up his game and be the center fielder we expected him to be when we obtained him from the Pirates last month. I don't think we've seen that elevated level of play from him yet. He has to step-up his game in the second half. Starting pitcher Derek Lowe must become the ace of the staff that we expected him to be when we signed the former Dodger free agent. He, and we, cannot afford for him to lose many more games this season. No more slumps for him. Period. The Braves need to stop the trade talk regarding shortstop Yunel Escobar. He may be a little moody at times and not quite the "Poster Boy Brave", but the dude can flat out play. Hit, run, field and throw. He is a total package. Leave him alone and let him play. The production at first just hasn't been there. I think everyone was looking for much more from Casey Kotchman, but Martin Prado does bring welcome relief there when he's not at second. The DL is a good place for Kelly Johnson to be. Too bad it's only 15 days. I like the way the youngster Brooks Conrad plays the game. A throw-back who loves to play hard. He's a solid back-up at second, and has proven to be a clutch pinch hitter. And Atlanta has the best catcher in Baseball in Brian McCann. 'Nough said. But the Braves have to stop their propensity for throwing away games they should win. They blow too many late leads in games they appear to be in control of. Their relief pitchers suffer from control issues at times, and fall prey to lead-off walks and pitching behind in too many counts. Like Bobby Cox always says, you don't have to necessarily sweep teams, but you must win the series. If the Braves take 2 of 3 and 3 of 4 during series in this second half, they have a great chance of showing up in the post season. If not, it's home early for the Holidays!

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