If the Atlanta Braves are to take back their division and hang another flag upon the cobwebbed Turner Field eaves, they MUST continue to adhere to three guidelines until the July 31st deadline, when help in some form should mercifully be on the way–let’s call them the three P’s for success:
The not much talked about, but very good starting rotation has kept the ship afloat all year long. Each pitcher has been penciled in to give three quality starts out of every four outings, and for Jair Jurrjens and Javier Vazquez, the unsung heroes whose win totals are tragically unrepresentative, it has been far better than that. As the rumblings on the blogosphere over the ineptitude of the offense has gotten more vitriolic, the pitching has only gotten better, collectively calibrating its game in accordance with the teams’ needs, and managing to give the Braves a chance to win nearly every night. The mighty Red Sox were only able to scrape together four runs in three games against the Braves staff. If a threatening right handed power bat had been in the line-up, an ace in the hole protecting Chipper Jones, the several squandered series of early June may very well have turned out different.
But that’s water under the bridge. The Braves are only 2 games back. And it’s only Independence Day.
Winners of five in a row for the first time all season, they must keep the momentum going as they finish out the holiday weekend in D.C., head to Chicago, and then Denver. A team that often times plays down to the competition must refrain from such proclivities and make it to the all-star break on a high note. After a sweep of the world champion Phillies, it’s looking more and more likely that Frank Wren will be looking to upgrade the offense in late July. His prescience in determining the best would be fits for the Braves has been startlingly accurate thus far; if the Braves remain poised and are a little patient, their owner will undoubtedly provide some ballast in the coming weeks.
Martin Prado’s sizzling week at second base is a prime example of what happens when the obstinately staid Bobby Cox, abandons some of his trademark conservatism, and throws caution to the wind by benching a player who is slumping badly. Kelly Johnson was hitting under .220 for what seemed like years before he was replaced by a guy who stepped in and sprayed Turner Field with Phillies pitching like cannon fodder. Prado doesn’t play–the Braves don’t sweep. It’s that simple. Cox has shown further un-Cox like tinkering the last two games by pinch hitting Garret Anderson for Jeff Francoeur against righties. With important men on base both times, Garret homered yesterday and nearly hit a double today. Francoeur’s slugging percentage is .341, and his swing just hasn’t come around like they had prodigiously hoped it would when they handed him the keys to right field to start the year.
But that’s water under the bridge. The Braves are only 2 games back. It’s Independence Day, but if the Braves continue to pitch, stay poised, and allow Prado and some other more than capable guys a chance to contribute, there could be plenty of fire works still to come.