Thursday, July 20, 2017

Will Atlanta Braves make strong run for division crown, wild card spot?

The Atlanta Braves have looked like world beaters since the All Star Break.

The All Star Break ended on Friday when the Braves began the first game of a three-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Atlanta. Atlanta won, 4-3, on Friday night, beat the D-backs, 8-5, on Saturday night and completed the sweep with a 7-1 victory on Sunday.

Entering that series, Arizona was in second place in the National League West standings, 7.5 games behind the division-leading Dodgers, who have the best record in baseball. Arizona was 10.5 games back on Monday, but still remained atop the National League Wild Card standings.

Atlanta was in fourth place in the Wild Card standings on Monday, but appeared to be poised to make a strong run for the top, especially if they continue to play like they’ve been playing. The only two teams between the Braves and the top were the Rockies and Cubs.

Between Monday and the end of the season, Atlanta is scheduled to play a total of 16 more games against Arizona, Colorado and Chicago. I think it’s unrealistic to believe that Atlanta will win all of those games, but their destiny is certainly in their hands. Interestingly, Arizona and Colorado are in the same division with the Dodgers, while the Cubs are currently in second place in the NL Central behind the Brewers.

Atlanta and Chicago were scheduled to play a three-game series earlier this week in Atlanta right before the Braves take off on a long road trip that starts today (Thursday) and will take them through Los Angeles, Arizona and Philadelphia. Atlanta will return to the friendly confines of their home stadium on Aug. 1 to play the Dodgers.

Much of Atlanta’s success is due to workhorse center fielder Ender Inciarte, who is batting .302 with 112 hits, seven home runs, 16 doubles, a triple, 36 RBI, 58 runs, 29 walks and 11 stolen bases. Left fielder Matt Kemp has also come on strong with a .293 batting average to go with 12 home runs, 40 RBI, 33 runs, 86 hits, 21 doubles and 21 walks.

Mike Foltynewicz has emerged as Atlanta’s leading pitcher up to this point in the season. As of Monday, he was sporting an ERA of 3.77 and a 7-5 record with 81 strikeouts and 31 walks in 93 total innings. Atlanta right-hander R.A. Dickey, who will be 43 years old in October, follows with an ERA of 4.23 and a 6-5 record with 110 strikeouts and 40 walks in 104-1/3 innings.

It’s often said that on all sports teams, whether it’s the Atlanta Braves or the Evergreen machine pitch all-stars, that the players that often make the most difference in a team’s overall success are the third and fourth best players. With that in mind, Atlanta needs its third and fourth best players on offense, defense and on the pitching staff to step up their game.

It’s also worth noting that the July 31 trade deadline in fast approaching and it’ll be interesting to see if the Braves buy or sell. Most pundits agree that if the Braves are more than seven games out of first place in the NL East standings on July 31, they probably won’t catch the Nationals in the division race and probably won’t earn a Wild Card spot. So, keep an eye on that magic number, which could trigger either a major addition to the line-up (or the selloff of perhaps your favorite player).

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