As baseball hits the halfway point of its April to October ride, four words can sum up the Atlanta Braves’ overall performance: so far, so good. Last year’s sudden-death playoff loss to the St. Louis Cardinals is in the rear-view mirror. And the Great September Collapse of 2011 was a couple of lifetimes ago. After launching the season with their best start since 1994, the Braves have consistently led the National League East. The Washington Nationals are only single digits away but haven’t managed any forward momentum. The Phillies are stuck in the middle. The Mets and Marlins are, well, the Mets and Marlins. We’ll leave it at that.
The Braves are playing well because of some things–and in spite of others. Their pitching lineup, led by Tim Hudson and Kris Medlin, is among the best in either league. The bullpen continues to lope along, evidently feeling the loss of Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters to season-ending surgeries. Slow starts from Jason Heyward, Dan Uggla and Justin Upton have hurt in the scoring department, but hits still come when they’re needed. Baseball analysts are betting and mid-season trades will focus on the bullpen, the center of the batting order, or both.
Aside from staying atop the NL East, some key highlights have marked the Braves’ first half. In April, hometown hero Tim Hudson joined the elite group of 113 major league pitchers to rack up 200 career wins. Evan Gattis, whose personal story is the stuff of Hollywood scripts, showed his big-league stuff while subbing for an injured Brian McCann. Julio Teheran has started to realize his true potential as a starting pitcher. And Ozzy Osborne’s “Crazy Train” rocked the Turner Field sound system one last time on June 28 as Chipper Jones’ #10 jersey was retired, part of his induction into the Braves Hall of Fame.
There are plenty of home stands and road trips between now and October. Baseball is no crystal ball sport, so anything can still happen. The Nats could resurge. The Phils could too. The Mets and Marlins might…oh, never mind. The potential for slumps and injuries still looms (insert “God forbid” here). A meteorite might land on home plate in “The Ted.” That said, there’s a young, determined and talented group of guys in Atlanta uniforms who love the view from the top. They’ll fight to stay there, and do whatever it takes to make their so-far-so-good season even better. Post-season play has slipped from the Braves’ collective gloves in a cruel fashion for two years straight. In their minds, 0-for-3 is not an option.