Four games up, 74 to play: Can the Braves hold on? Sure

Even the All-Star Game broke right for the Braves and B-Mac. (AP photo)

Even the All-Star Game broke right for the Atlanta Braves and Brian McCann. (AP photo)

On Opening Day the ballyhooed rookie hit a three-run homer on his first big-league swing. On Tuesday an All-Star catcher not having nearly his best year stroked a three-run double to ensure that the World Series will start in a National League city. And it could — yes it could — be this city.

The Braves are having that sort of year. From Jason Heyward’s first at-bat to Brian McCann breaking the NL’s 13-year All-Star Game litany of failure, 2010 began uproariously and has gotten better.

Here’s a team that had no runs after 26 outs in its first meeting against the reigning league champion … and won by hitting three home runs in the next four at-bats. Here’s a team that trailed first-place Cincinnati by seven runs after eight innings … and won in the ninth. Here’s a team that lost nine consecutive games in April … and it begins post-All-Star play with a four-game lead in the NL East.

When it’s your year, it’s your year.

This is the smartest Braves’ team since the early ’90s. These guys work the count. They get on base. They don’t hit a ton but they hit for maximum effect. They didn’t hit at all back in April, but they worked their way through that month and have been a metronome since.

Since May 9 they’ve played 19 series; they’ve lost one of the 19. One. They haven’t dropped consecutive home games since April 21 and 22. They entered the All-Star break by taking four of six on the road from teams in third and second place. When everything turned in May it was permissible to wonder if this was just a club having a hot month, but May ended a while ago and June is gone, too, and here the Braves sit, four games up with 74 to play.

Not everything has gone right. Jair Jurrjens got hurt. Heyward got hurt and didn’t tell anybody until his average had dipped under .260. Chipper Jones has had to work to lift his average above .250. Kenshin Kawakami needed 15 starts to win a game. In the final week of June the Braves used a starting outfield of Eric Hinske, Gregor Blanco and Melky Cabrera.

And none of it has mattered. This is one of those harmonic convergences where the whole outshines the sum of its parts. The Braves are eighth among National League teams in batting and 11th in home runs, but they’re first in walks and on-base percentage, which makes this a Braves’ team unlike any we’ve seen. Their starting pitching has been as advertised, and the bullpen has been great.

Even with five All-Star selections, this isn’t a collection of stars. It’s simply a heck of a ballclub. The Braves went from last in the division to first in two dizzying weeks, and they’ve increased their lead by grinding out five more winning weeks since Memorial Day. The starting pitching gives them a shot every night, and the offense fashions enough runs to make it work. It’s not quite domination, but it’s absolutely the formula for winning baseball.

Will the Braves win the East?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

And yes, for winning a division. The pitching shouldn’t falter, and the hitting isn’t reliant on any one Brave. This is team in the strict definition of the word, a team that has patched the holes that were apparent in April. It’s also a team that feeds off itself. There’s a confidence among Braves, the confidence that comes from the sight of someone different — Omar Infante, Kris Medlen, Brooks Conrad — delivering when deployed. (And the subtraction of Yunel Escobar should only enhance the ambiance.)

It’s also Bobby Cox’s final season. The notion of a big-league club carrying a win-one-for-the-skipper imperative through a six-month season was always fanciful, but if gets down to September and the race tightens … well, these players’ feelings for their manager might well take hold.

Four games up, 74 to go. Can they hold on? Yes they can. Sure they can. I didn’t believe in March and April, but I’ve learned my lesson. And I’ve been around enough division winners to know this:

When it’s your year, it’s your year. This is the Braves’ year.

146 comments Add your comment

MatthewH

July 14th, 2010
9:00 am

Good Morning!

MatthewH

July 14th, 2010
9:01 am

Please don’t pick them! The Bradley curse lives on.

MatthewH

July 14th, 2010
9:04 am

I do find it interesting that now that the NL has won (and gotten home-field advantage) the “talking-heads” are complaining about the winner getting home-field advantage. Where were these NY/ Boston sportswriters when the AL was getting home-field?!?

matt_t

July 14th, 2010
9:06 am

Braves Yankees World Series. Bobby’s last season vs Steinbrenner’s death (and the end of the last remnants of the 2 teams of the 90s [if chipper does retire])

you’ll have plenty to write about if that comes to fruition.

But I agree, this is a team built to succeed, it’s amazing how getting rid of free swingers and focusing on OBP and working the counts has improved the team.

Finchdawg

July 14th, 2010
9:08 am

And there go our chances, thanks to MB. :-)

hopefully not

thickfreakness

July 14th, 2010
9:13 am

Mark-
Glad you decided to climb aboard. I told you in March that this team would win because it pitches better than anyone in the NL.

Waterboy

July 14th, 2010
9:13 am

You can DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO IT!

CSpin

July 14th, 2010
9:14 am

This article gives me butterflies—-but scares me too.

Waterboy

July 14th, 2010
9:14 am

Whatever happened to Kickchin Katchacumi?

Jake

July 14th, 2010
9:16 am

They will go on another bad losing streak and not make the playoffs.

Hankie Aron

July 14th, 2010
9:16 am

Mark,
Do you think the Braves still need to trade for another bat? Outfielder or another position? 2 weeks ago I was very sure the Braves were in need of an outfielder with power but now I think they are fine just the way they are. What do you think?

Decatur Native

July 14th, 2010
9:20 am

Just want to know how many FORMER braves now with other teams were in the ALL Star game, it’s mind boggling cause we give talent away but have no problem replacing it.

Hank

July 14th, 2010
9:20 am

If the braves do win and go to the series, who will coach the all stars next year? The losing team’s coach in the NLCS?

PMC

July 14th, 2010
9:21 am

You know the only thing that disapoints me a bit about the prospects for the postseason are the possibilities of being forced to listen to Joe Buck and Tim McCarver completely overlook anything good about the Braves team and whine on about “knucklecurves”…. but that said. I’ll take it.

I’m confident that they can win it.

Rob

July 14th, 2010
9:21 am

I hope it’s the devil rays and braves. That way I can go to every game.

Decatur Native

July 14th, 2010
9:21 am

Furcal, Wainwright, Soriano did I miss anyone?

Scott W.

July 14th, 2010
9:28 am

Is this the same team that was condemned in April?

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Bradley, ajc sports editor. ajc sports editor said: Share YOUR opinion here, folks > RT @MarkBradleyAJC: Four games up, 74 to go: Can the #Braves hold on? Sure. http://bit.ly/bNZ8nK [...]

Bud

July 14th, 2010
9:29 am

When Heyward and McOut comes back,who gets sent down?We need Blanco{can’t believe I said that}and it looks as if Diaz has found his stroke,so who will lose their job?

y2m

July 14th, 2010
9:32 am

Elvis Andrus

Andy

July 14th, 2010
9:33 am

Mark, you are right about the team not being reliant on one player. If someone had told me that Heyward was going to get hurt and be ineffective for 3 weeks and then go on the DL I would have thought their lead would have evaporated. There is just a special feeling about this team. The way they celebrate and joke around in the dugout, the last at-bat wins, the fact that different player seem to step-up in a big situation and play well, and even last night when Mac gets the huge hit in the All-Star game. Something special is happening.

jeff c.

July 14th, 2010
9:34 am

Decatur Native…you gorgot Elvis Andrus. We gave him away in the Tex deal.

Dan

July 14th, 2010
9:34 am

Shocker! Good starting pitching can get you to the playoffs.

Seriously though, this team is just so much fun to watch every single night. It may be time to give Mr. Wren his due.

It’s also good that we have about four really good starting pitchers in the minor leagues. This team is built again for the long haul.

P

July 14th, 2010
9:36 am

With 6 more home games than the Mets or Phillies and the pitching we have there is no excuse for not winning the division. Bobby Cox is either going down in a bad way on this or out in a great way! No excuses, no curses.

P

July 14th, 2010
9:40 am

Wainwright is the one who looked unhittable last night (and that Valverde dude from Detroit). Furcal and Soriano you can have!

With 5-6 on the roster and Billy Wagner offered a chance it looks to me like we replaced them well (those that we cut loose). Also Chipper, Glaus, Jurrjens, Hanson and Hinske are “all-stars” in my book. There aren’t many teams with that many people who are/were all-stars.

Hooter Girl

July 14th, 2010
9:41 am

Joey

July 14th, 2010
9:44 am

Mark, come on just leave it at your first impression back in April (no jinxes please!) – “This Team, as Constituted Will Not Win Anything.”

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

July 14th, 2010
9:46 am

You can do it!!! Stay healthy, protect the lead, and all is well in ATL!!

Dan

July 14th, 2010
9:48 am

P – you make a good point. We’ve had fewer home games than anyone in the big leagues.

Fun for a change

July 14th, 2010
9:48 am

Soriano was traded for whom? I always thought that he was an over powering pitcher.

He is now with Tampa? Who replaced him?

Go Braves

Don

July 14th, 2010
9:49 am

Problem is – It takes Bobby Cox months to make needed changes/improvements that are obvious to everyone. Remember that he played BOTH McLouth and Melky full time in the outfield with neither of them producing for 1/4 of the season and through the 9 game losing streak without giving Infante or Hinske a chance to play and produce, and he hit Chipper 3rd in the batting order with him hitting in the .220s for most of the season. (Not saying that Chipper should not have been in the lineup – but not in the 3rd spot.) There is no telling how many games these factors cost the Braves in the first half – five at least would be a conservative estimate. A 9 or 10 game lead right now would certainly be a lot better than a 4 game lead. For that period of time McLouth and Melky were both producing almost nothing – and Chipper’s production did’t even resemble a 3rd place hitter. The big question is – Will these games that Bobby Cox has already blown end up costing the Braves the Division championship?

Jeff

July 14th, 2010
10:00 am

What people don’t know is that right after the Braves lost nine in a row in April and were in last place, Ali’s Cookies in Marietta (www.shipacookie.com) started delivering fresh baked cookies to the clubhouse as a “pick me up” for the team to enjoy. Right after the first delivery their losing streak ended and they have been winning ever since. Ali’s Cookies has been delivering cookies before every homestand, and now the Braves are in first. We are not superstitious but we will continue to deliver the cookies before every homestand. Why take any chances.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Daniel

July 14th, 2010
10:05 am

Why was Bobby not a coach in the All-star game? His team is the best in the NL and it is his last season!!!!!

McDawg

July 14th, 2010
10:06 am

It feels GREAT to be an Atlanta Braves fan

McDawg

July 14th, 2010
10:07 am

one more October

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Bat Masterson

July 14th, 2010
10:19 am

What do you mean, “Heyward got hurt and did not tell anyone?” Everyone knew Heyward was hurt, he just got to the point where he could not play through it, that’s different.

ChillyMutt

July 14th, 2010
10:21 am

I think we still need a big, veteran outfield bat.

Taylor Hanson

July 14th, 2010
10:22 am

I guess Francoeur is now known as “Brian McCann’s best friend”?

Angus

July 14th, 2010
10:24 am

It feels GREAT to be an Atlanta Braves fan……unless, of course, you are Don.

Jesse Stone

July 14th, 2010
10:26 am

Taylor Hanson- PLEASE don’t let this get on the David Greene- David Pollack level. Verne Lundquist gets the “heebie-jeebies” just thinking about that.

Angus

July 14th, 2010
10:26 am

C’mon Braves fans, let’s reciprocate a fabulous 1st half by filling up the Ted. There’s no excuse for being #14 in attendance.

Jeff

July 14th, 2010
10:27 am

Daniel: He was asked, but declined.

a

July 14th, 2010
10:28 am

we’re one solid bat away from a title – the good news is that bat may be on a rehab assignment right now (that’s right folks….nate mclouth).

not BIG bat, but solid bat. a 12 home run, bunch-of-doubles bat. get him back to form, get heyward back up around .280….and save your money on all this trade talk.

a

July 14th, 2010
10:29 am

and angus – totally agree. get to the ball park, everybody!

j

July 14th, 2010
10:31 am

Awesome article MB! The Braves are playing great ball!

GP

July 14th, 2010
10:31 am

Mark,

Just curious if any team had more representation from their farm system at the All Star Game than the Braves did with 7 All Stars: Heyward, McCann, Prado, Wainwright. Andrus, Feliz and Furcal

nola braves fan

July 14th, 2010
10:31 am

“when its your year, its your year”

think that’s not true.. any one watch the NFL this year? I live down here and the Saints had more breaks go their way than any team I have ever seen. Redskins kicker misses 25 yard FG… that play ends up giving them home field, Farve doesn’t slide, I could go on and on…

I agree MB … sports are crazy like that… some years, it’s just your time

JoJo the Dancing Bear

July 14th, 2010
10:35 am

You better not jinx us, Bradley.