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.
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.)