Monday, July 12, 2010

Atlanta Braves emerging as the team to beat in the National League East

Back on May 27, I wrote that I was starting to like the Atlanta Braves chances in the National League Eastern Division (click here to read that). Since then, the Braves have played the best ball in the division and hold a four-game lead at the All-Star break.

The Braves had five players selected for the All-Star game. Second baseman Martin Prado was picked and has hit above .320 for most of the year. He ranks near the top of many hitting categories in the National League. Catcher Brian McCann was picked again, proving that he remains one of the best receivers in the game. Pitcher Tim Hudson has had an ERA below 2.50 for most of the year. Rookie right fielder Jason Heyward was selected despite spending time on the disabled list in June and July. However, he will miss the game because of his thumb injury.

The most controversial selection was outfielder/utility man Omar Infante. Many people were up in arms because Infante is not a regular starter on the team. Personally, I do not believe he should have been selected, but he is hardly the stiff many media folks (mostly from New York) are saying he is. He is hitting above .300 and is an excellent defensive player who can play five positions. The guy can play regardless of what his shortcomings are.

Heading into the second half of the season, the Braves are in good shape to remain a divisional contender. With the return of pitcher Jair Jurjens from injury a couple of weeks ago, the starting rotation is now set in place. The bullpen should remain an asset as long as closer Billy Wagner remains healthy.

The key, as always, with the Braves is the offense. Will the team continue to produce as it has? When the team struggled in April, it was because the offense simply could not come up with a clutch hit when needed. The result was a lousy month that featured a nine game losing streak.

If Heyward returns and the offense can avoid injuries, the Braves should be fine. The Phillies are struggling because of a balky offense and erratic starting pitching (with the exception of Roy Halladay and maybe Cole Hamels). The Mets played well in June and could be a threat. Playing in a pitcher's park, starters like UT product R.A. Dickey have done well.

The remainder of the summer should be fascinating. As always, if the Braves do not win the division, let's hope the Mets do not.

No comments: