Why, these Braves might be playing in October after all

I’m starting, again, to think this is going to happen. I thought the Braves were a playoff team when they left Lake Buena Vista, and then I watched the first 80 games and thought, “Wrong again, Brad.” (Bobby Cox, as you know, calls me “Brad.”) But now they’ve won six of seven and they just beat Tim Lincecum and I’m back to where I was in the spring.

The 2009 Atlanta Braves. A wild-card team.

Only three back in the WC standings, if you’d care to check.

What Frank Wren and I thought would happen all along is happening now: The pitching would keep them in every game, and they’d hit enough to win most of those games. The hitting took a while to come around — to be honest, I’d convinced myself it never would — but here it is. And this looks like a real team, a good team, a team that wouldn’t be out of its depth in October.

This isn’t the same team we saw in May, both figuratively and literally. Jordan Schafer and Kelly Johnson are in Class AAA and Jeff Francoeur is a Met. Those were, as a multitude of you pointed out, the biggest holes in an unassuming batting order. But now Martin Prado is hitting like Pete Rose and Francoeur isn’t killing innings and Nate McLouth is providing professional, as opposed to amateurish, at-bats. And did I mention that the pitching is still great?

And did I mention that Yunel Escobar is playing like the All-Star shortstop Chipper Jones believes he can be? The National League player of the week last week, and now a threejack off the San Francisco Freak.

Are the Braves a playoff team?

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And you know how you can tell something has changed? No, by not the hitting. (Sometimes that’s a function of lousy pitching by the other side.) By the defense. Every member of the infield made a splendid play in Tuesday’s game, and even Garret Anderson kept a ball down the line from reaching the corner and becoming a double.

Defense, see, is infectious. Defense is a clear sign a team is believing. And so, after 3 1/2 months of doubting myself and these Braves, am I.

Now watch them go lose Thursday afternoon.

(But if they do, you can, via the magic of the Internet, yell at me for jinxing them. I’ll be doing a live chat from the ballpark starting about 12:30 p.m. and going throughout the day. I look forward to your patronage.)

136 comments Add your comment

NRBQ

July 22nd, 2009
11:34 pm

Wow. No fool posted 1st! yet.

NRBQ

July 22nd, 2009
11:35 pm

And Brad, you’re gonna wear yourself out jumpin’ on and off the bandwagon.

arif11

July 22nd, 2009
11:38 pm

Mark,

Do you see the Braves trying to add bullpen help at the deadline? I only ask because there doesn’t seem to be a good bat that doesn’t become a FA at the end of next year. AND, our hitting is coming around…perhaps persuading Wren that we don’t need that big bat after all.

Mark Bradley

July 22nd, 2009
11:42 pm

I think trading for a relief pitcher is about all the Braves are now apt to do, Arif. And even that might not be mandatory. If Hudson is back by the end of August, you’d figure either he or Kenshin Kawakami will pitch in relief.

MikeInValdosta

July 22nd, 2009
11:50 pm

The BUI in me must inform you, if the Braves are playing in October it will be due to their record.

Mark Bradley

July 22nd, 2009
11:56 pm

Not necessarily. They might receive a sponsor’s exemption. Like Michelle Wie.

CKS

July 22nd, 2009
11:56 pm

Mark, based on your column, and acknowledging up front that this is all hypothetical (don’t want to tempt the baseball Gods too much), how would a best-of-five playoff rotation look? (Assuming the Braves would have time to set the rotation any way they’d want, which is yet another big if)…D-Lowe, Jurrjens, and Vazquez??? In that order? What do you think? (Again, just dreamin’…I’m the same cocky fan who busted on a bunch of NYY fans after game 2 in ‘96 and the baseball gods have never forgiven me (I live in the northeast so I’m surrounded…). THanks.

GSU Student

July 22nd, 2009
11:57 pm

How do you see the Braves using Infante when he returns?

Zach

July 23rd, 2009
12:00 am

Mark,

do you think the braves would consider going to a six man rotation when huddy comes back? What are we going to do with Kenshi when huddy is back pitching?

Coach (2010 or Bust)

July 23rd, 2009
12:03 am

It takes a lot to win me over but this bunch of ball players is starting to. Like many, I thought they would win all along but the playoffs were really iffy when the season started. The odds are still steep but my Braves are alive and kicking. Winning is fun, enjoy it!

Mark Bradley

July 23rd, 2009
12:06 am

CKS, I’d say it’d be like this: Game 1, Vazquez; Game 2, Jurrjens; Game 3, Lowe; Game 4, Hanson.

Teams never use a five-man rotation in the postseason.

And GSU, I’d guess Infante will be what he is — a utility man. Don’t see anybody beating out Prado at 2B.

scottbravesfan

July 23rd, 2009
12:09 am

I don’t see how the Braves don’t at least win the wild card. The Rockies, Giants, and Cubs aren’t anything special. If the Braves can just have an average offense their pitching is good enough to win easy.

Steven

July 23rd, 2009
12:10 am

Mark can you please plead with Wren not to make any moves and stand pat. It’s not the sexy thing to do but its the right thing. I can’t see adding a reliever that wouldn’t come in after the 7th inning in most meaningful games would help much. It’s unlikely still in my mind that the braces make the postseason but i like this core alot and i think braves fans have a lot to look forward too. Anyone see francouer blow that fly ball tonight against the nats? I am so glad that guy isn’t in our outfield anymore.

Rev. Otis Nixon

July 23rd, 2009
12:12 am

Why are you so much more likeable than the other Braves writers, Brad? For some reason, your columns never seem overly pessimistic, nor homer-ish. I am a fan, dude.

IlliniBrave

July 23rd, 2009
12:16 am

Mark: I really really appreciate your honesty – you do call ‘em like you see ‘em. It takes some guts for a writer to say what most fans knew – that Kelly, Frenchie, and Shafer were killing us at the plate AND in the field. Other columnists (DOB, CR) won’t be so bold. Thanks for the refreshing frankness of your columns. It bugs me when writers are too “politically correct.” Sure you are sometimes wrong – but that’s what happens when you take risks and express an opinion. Keep up the good work!

AP

July 23rd, 2009
12:17 am

Adding some power @ 5/6 would be nice. I keep looking at the Natinals not that they would give up Zimmerman. He @ 3b and move #10 to first? Dunn could be a possibility but for the K’s.

Braves Fan

July 23rd, 2009
12:22 am

I would like to see the Braves go to a 6 man rotation when Hudson is back at full strength…

1) It would be a tryout for the rotation next year. Based on this year, you would think JV, JJ, and TH are locks for next year. Lowe has pitched good, but not great. He will be back because of his un-tradable contract.

2) That leaves KK and Huddy for the last spot. These two can pitch for their spot the rest of the way…

3) The other advantage of this is it will keep the innings down for JJ, TH, KK, and TimH….JJ and Hanson don’t need to throw a ton of innings in August and September alla Mark Prior. Same goes for KK to a lesser degree. And Huddy does not need to go out and start 2 games a week…

4) That being said, I think they will let Huddy walk at the end of the year, as KK’s production vs. contract is probably a better value than Huddy…

Keith

July 23rd, 2009
12:23 am

Mark,

What are the odds of the Braves catching the Phils? I mean, we still have a lot of games head to head against them, and there are a lot of teams in the wildcard hunt. I kind of think we have a more realistic chance of catching the teams in the wildcard rather than the red-hot Phils…even though the odds themselves would say it will be difficult to make the wildcard ours.

GO BRAVES!

I think it could be a good time to consider buying season tickets. :) We shall see.

Braves Fan

July 23rd, 2009
12:26 am

How about Nick Johnson for a mid-level prospect and Kotchman? Just make him shave the child molester mustache first…

Coach (2010 or Bust)

July 23rd, 2009
12:27 am

scottbravesfan, the current offense is anything but average. In the month of July this team has hit .297 with 20 HR’s and 105 RBI in 19 games.

It is stunning to say the least. Nobody saw Martin Prado coming, nobody. No one could have expected the Pirates to trade Nate McLouth to us. Not to mention getting Ryan Church for Francoeur, and Garrett Anderson has been steady as a rock in LF.

Some things just cannot be explained. Baseball at times can simply become easy to explain and then completely mesmerizing in it’s complexity. I’m dumbfounded beyond words.

The Dust

July 23rd, 2009
12:28 am

Hudson won’t walk. Why? Because he has a year left. That means that Vazquez is still trade bait, because Hudson and KK have no value at this point with Hudson coming off surgery and KK being mediocre at best with a fat contract attached.

Stephen

July 23rd, 2009
12:37 am

I just saw the poll results- 97% think the Braves are a playoff team. To distort/rephrase that: does anyone think there is a 97% chance that the Braves make the playoffs? (I realize there aren’t many votes yet). I’d say the probability that the Braves make the playoffs is somewhere in the 30% range, albeit up from 20% a couple weeks ago. Keep in mind that we lost 3 games on the Phils during this stretch.

It’s about time for a little regression to the mean/reality check. Do we really think that Prado is a .320 hitter for the rest of the season, or do we entertain the possibility that maybe he’s overachieving and will likely come down to earth? Do we think that GAnderson is going to keep up with the dingers at this rate? Do we really expect zero injuries (Chipper, I love you sir, but I’m looking in your direction)?

Which do we think is a better dataset to predict the rest of the season: the Braves’ recent dominance or the other 80 games they played? I love the optimism, but I’m not there yet. Best of luck, but I’m not holding my breath.

ATL FAN

July 23rd, 2009
12:38 am

In my opinion if we could get a Juan Pierre type lead off hitter, We will win the division. That threat with our pithing will catipult us dramaticly. We can make due with our power but the threat of speed with these guys hitting behind him takes us deep into the playoffs. Juan pierre fits this team very nicely offensively and defensively Plus he knows what it takes to be a winner. He’s been on nothing but winning teams.

bravesfanbob

July 23rd, 2009
12:43 am

I am glad to see Kelly Johnson doing well in Gwinnett. He’ll bring a little more in a trade, maybe. I would never activate him. Brooks Conrad’s 3 run homer against Washington is one of the biggest sparks during this run, and he’s provided much more than we’d dreamed. Besides, with Omar coming back to back Prado, we have no place for him. Even Conrad will be sent down when we activate Infante. Trade Kelly and Ryan Church for Matt Holliday. The only teams that might make a better offer would be a team who thinks they could sign him, but in this economy, this is one year that no team knows if they’ll be able to sign a player like him. It’s a perfect time to get a rental. Sure he’s a rent a player, and he would cost a little more salary wise, but we’d have one more bopper for the rest of the season. We have Heyward for next season, so Holliday would be a perfect fit for 2 months in right or left, (move Garret Anderson to right if necessary, I’ve always preferred a righty in left, and a lefty in right, easier to throw out of the corner). We need to get one more bat to keep up with the Phillies when they get Roy Halladay. That all being said, I am so proud of my Braves for how they’ve been playing. Thanks for keeping all of us very interested!

Coach (2010 or Bust)

July 23rd, 2009
12:46 am

Hey Stephen, I get the pessimism. I really do. This is still the slowest Braves team that I have ever seen in my life. However, the pitching is real and did you know this team has committed just four errors in July? I’ll translate that for you my friend.

Baseball games are won with two main ingredients. Pitching and Defense. No, not offense or the long ball or even with the running game.

Pitching and Defense. This team is executing both facets flawlessly.

Mitchell

July 23rd, 2009
12:57 am

With regards to the survey, I was one of the five solitary indivuals who voted “No”. I had to do it. I’m not sure why. I think it’s because the thought of this team winning the World Series is way too much for this Braves fan to deal with.

I can’t think about the Braves making the post-season without fantasizing about the possible scenarios of the final out. Is it Marteeen hitting a three run 8th inning homerun in Game 6 to win it and Gonzo to close it out? Or maybe Tommy Hanson pitching a complete game two-hitter in Game 7, striking out 14 batters? Or is it a blow-out double digit victory in Game 4 to sweep?

See, once I start, it’s hard to stop. I really can’t think about the playoffs without going all the way but it does appear that the former is a distinct possibility.

For the record, I’m invariably picturing the Red Sox each time. We could take ‘em.

Coach (2010 or Bust)

July 23rd, 2009
1:00 am

A few more things to mention and I’ll shut my trap. Our Braves are scoring 5.6 runs per game while posting and ERA of 3.13. They also have thirteen quality starts to go along with their 13 wins and have reeled off seven quality starts in a row.

Over and Out

July 23rd, 2009
1:03 am

Don’t let yourself believe. It only leads to heartache.

Big O

July 23rd, 2009
1:33 am

Stephen the glass is half full dude I heard Chip say tonight that we have more games left agaist teams in our division than anyone in the league. I think we have 7 or 8 left with the phonies. If they dont get a top line starter like M.H. we can catch them but if they do the wild card is most def in reach

Puma

July 23rd, 2009
1:42 am

Ahhh, Bradley you are an idiot, but you crack me up, and I enjoy you blog. Keep it up!

Main Street Mafia

July 23rd, 2009
1:51 am

Stephen, I have to disagree with mostly everything you said. You can’t misinterpret the poll that way. No one on this web site would say the Braves are 97% in the post-season. Martin Prado will like continue to hit like he is because he’s a good hitter. His career average is .313 so if by falling back down to earth you mean that his average drops 10 points then I’m okay with that. Garret Anderson is a good hitter. If by fall back down to earth you mean his .287 average goes up to his career average of .296, I’m okay with that. The guys you mentioned are not overachieving; they’re doing what they’ve done their entire career. Although when it comes to Chipper and injuries, I have no comment.

RayRoy

July 23rd, 2009
1:56 am

“The National League player of the week last week, and now a threejack off the San Francisco Freak.”

Maybe it’s just my warped, twisted mind. But I find there is a questionable element in the formulation of this particular sentence.

*whistles*

Johnny Reb

July 23rd, 2009
2:04 am

They really need to trade Escobar now. Did you see the way he tossed his bat on that homer tonight? Disgraceful! You’d never see a true professional like Kelly Johnson pull that nonsense. After all, even Bradley publicly wonders if Escobar is a “lost cause”.

(before I’m ripped by the sane minority of Braves fans, the above was dripping with sarcasm. Except for the Bradley shot. I’m surprised a reporter with his pedigree hasn’t gotten the answer to his burning question posed Tuesday about “who does Yunel’s hair?”. GOOD GRIEF! No wonder REAL baseball towns make fun of us).

Mark Bradley

July 23rd, 2009
2:07 am

Nobody wants Casey Kotchman. How many first basemen hit seventh?

Mark Bradley

July 23rd, 2009
2:08 am

And IlliniBrave, I’m not “sometimes wrong.” I’m always wrong. But thanks for the endorsement.

Josh

July 23rd, 2009
2:14 am

BravesFan, that’s what spring training is for. Why would you want to take starts away from Hanson, Jurrjens, and Vazquez by using a six-man rotation. Come on, us braves fans are smarter than that.

Josh

July 23rd, 2009
2:15 am

Oh, and Mark, it’s late. Catch some z’s.

Big O

July 23rd, 2009
2:30 am

I checked the schedule we have nine games left with the phonies and six of those are at the Ted. Ouch I just pulled my hamstring jumping back on the playoff bandwagon. I love the Bravos but I was looking at the playoffs next season. Not now with this little run we can do it.
October baseball at the Ted. We took it for granted yall. But now how bad do we want it.

ATL FAN

July 23rd, 2009
2:40 am

juan pierre=world series

UcantCLA

July 23rd, 2009
2:43 am

Just wanted to point out the Ken Griffey Jr. is DHing in Seattle and he’s batting .211 with 10 HR’s while Garret Anderson is batting .287 with 7 HRs and Diaz hitting at .304 with 4 HR’s. The braves got better by not getting Jr.

UcantCLA

July 23rd, 2009
3:00 am

Also I think Soriano is a free agent after this season, someone want to tell Frank Wren to sign him ASAP. Pay that man his money cause I like Gonzalez but I dont trust him like I Soriano.

Richard Nieh

July 23rd, 2009
3:31 am

I don’t think they are a wild card team. I think they can win the division. I really hate Phillies’ rotation and I truly believe the rotation surge in the second half is only temporary. That rotation will fall unless they have Roy Halladay to stabilize it. Even they have Halladay, Phillies better hope he wins every start against the Braves or they will find their sacrifice is useless.

In addition, Braves just beat Tim Lincecum and they have beaten both Santana and Halladay before. I believe anyone from the Braves’ rotation is capable to beat any ace from any league. That is some kind of rotation. There are still 2 plus months to go and Braves will play 9 more games against Phillies. Their pitching will decimate the Phillies.

UGASlobberknocker

July 23rd, 2009
3:56 am

I thought at one time the best move would be to try and trade Kochman and maybe a pitcher or two for a big bopper first baseman. I have changed my mind. He still isnt hitting like a first baseman should; but as you mention in your column, defense means a lot. Bad defense can kill the spirit if a team faster than anything. To lose a game or to give up a run due to an error hurts a lot more than giving up a homer. Defense is the one aspect of the game where perfection is expected, A good hitter is out 70% of the time. A good pitcher still gives up 3.5 runs a game. A 3b can field 1000 ground balls, and if he fields 980 of them and botches 20, he is a bum.

I am now of the opinion let’s ride this horse as long as we can, make no deals , save our prospects, then tweak in the offseason. I believe that the Braves are no worse than the #3 team in the NL right now, and as we Braves fans know all too well, once you get to the postseason, anything can happen. It matters not what the Dodgers or Phils reg season record was.did in the regular season…anything can happen. And our pitching staff is better suited for postseason these days..we dont have to worry that the low and outside pitch that was a strike all season turns into a ball in the playoffs as was the case in the 90’s. We have a diff style of pitcher for the most part now.

Keep up the good work “Brad”..this is the best blog in the ajc (Schultz a strong #2).

honest_abe

July 23rd, 2009
4:17 am

brad, did you have to jinx the team again. every time you write a positive article about the braves they go on a losing streak. then when you say they’re done they do something positive. NO MORE ARTICLES ON THE BRAVES UNLESS YOU WANT TO SAY SOMETHING NEGATIVE!

seriously though baseball has about as much appeal as bobby cox in spandex.

my prediction: huddy comes back. the braves somehow manage to get rid of kawakami for a reliever. the braves win the wildcard and go on to win the world series. yay.

luvthosedawgs68

July 23rd, 2009
5:04 am

Just a few comments to add…. Have any of you realized where the Braves defense would be without Casey at first base? Between the scorchers hit to him and the short-hops he gobbles up at the bag, his defense IS the reason he’s so valuable. Also, .280, with 35 RBI’s is not too bad for a 7/8 place hitter. Also, Martin Prado won’t be giving up the 2 spot for a while. Its been a long time since I’ve seen a more humble and appreciative player on the Braves. As long as Bobby understands he can’t overuse Gonzo and the rest of the bullpen, I have a feeling the Braves will show us some amazing things over the last 2+ months of the regular season.

NCBravesFan

July 23rd, 2009
6:08 am

I’m not convinced that the division race is over by any stretch. It will be interesting to see what changes the Phils make heading toward the trade deadline. If they decide not to get a front-line starter to pair with Hamels, there’s still plenty of time for us to catch them.

Getting back to the Braves – and this is a really good point you make,Mark – the defense tells you everything about how this team is doing right now. They looked so listless a couple of weeks ago, and now they are a really exciting team to watch in the field and at the plate.

After three years in the wilderness, I think that’s what we were all hoping for coming into this year.

abudefdef

July 23rd, 2009
6:16 am

Hmmmm, Braves are off to a RED HOT start after the All Star break…why is there ANY talk of trading ANYONE? The team is playing great defense, getting great pitching, and hitting at opportune times…

If it ain’t broke, DON’T FIX IT!

Ross

July 23rd, 2009
6:44 am

‘64! ‘64! ‘64!

-drl

BDAWG

July 23rd, 2009
6:48 am

Keep it going Bravos! This is the first time in a very long time that the Braves nation feels like it did in the mid-90’s. The pitching is great, clutch hitting is well above average and the defense has been awesome. I think they will make the playoffs but hey, if they don’t I will still be here watching and cheering my beloved Braves and like the Cubs, we always have next season

Ernest

July 23rd, 2009
6:54 am

Good point by luvthosedawgs68 regarding Kotchman. It seems many fans don’t have the same appreciation for defense as they do offense. One way to stop a team from scoring runs is to play good defense. Though he is not the ‘big bopper’ everyone would like at first, he is not chopped liver. He’s one of the team leaders in doubles, does not strike out much, and has a decent OBP. IMO, these stats are as helpful to a team as anything else.