8 reasons why these Braves will NOT squander this lead

This young man is about to get going again. Just watch. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

This young man is about to get going again. Just watch. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

They’d suffered a bad loss late Wednesday, and now the Braves had to play an afternoon game against the team with the National League’s best record on a sweltering day. (Heat index: 106.) They won so easily as to make you believe there’s no way the final 10 1/2 weeks of this regular season hold any danger for this dauntless band. The reasons why:

1. They can pitch. It never changes. As long as you can pitch, you can win. The Braves won breezing Thursday — actually, they did some sweating, too — because Tim Hudson never gave the Padres a chance. He worked seven innings and yielded six baserunners, one of whom was erased by a double play. This isn’t a team apt to lose five in a row because the rotation won’t let that happen. Jair Jurrjens looks hale and hearty, and even if Tommy Hanson and Derek Lowe haven’t been dominant they’re fine as Nos. 3 and 4 starters.

2. They’re buoyant. Not 15 hours after a sobering loss, the Braves had taken a lasting lead in the decisive game of a three-game set against an opponent they might well see in October. Said Billy Wagner, who blew a save Wednesday night: “Good teams are resilient. The heat out there today was awful; I guarantee you the Padres had never felt anything like that. We jumped on them early and kept them out there a long time.”

3. They’re daring. The key play of the first inning was the rookie Jason Heyward going first-to-third on Chipper Jones’ single to left field, which isn’t easy to do. (Heyward scored the only run the Braves would need on Troy Glaus’ sacrifice fly.) Said Bobby Cox of Heyward: “His instincts are off the chart, and he’s got some larceny in him. He’s not afraid to take a base.”

4. They’re clever. The 20-year-old right fielder is wise in the ways of older men, and there are a bunch of older guys to backstop him. Back to Heyward taking third: “You’d be surprised how many [left fielders] at this level can’t make that throw,” Jones said. “We’re a smart team. We steal bases at a very high percentage [69.5 percent, to be precise]. We’re very good at taking the extra base.” Then this: “We’ve got ballplayers. We’ve got guys with great instincts.”

5. They have a dependable shortstop. Alex Gonzalez, nicknamed Sea Bass, had four hits Thursday and made another series of deft defensive swoops. Said Cox: “Watching him play shortstop these past few days has really been special.” Jones likened A-Gonz to Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel, saying: “It’s great that he’s having a great offensive year, but what I want out of a shortstop is defense — to know that 99 percent of the time he gets his mitt on something he’s going to make the play.”

6. They have a healthier Heyward. He was hitting .251 at the All-Star break, but this is in no way a .251 hitter. He carried this team when nobody else could do a thing in April, and he’s capable of more heavy lifting. He hit .321 over the seven-game homestand. He will do even better very soon.

7. They have a working lead but they’re not impressed by it. Said Wagner: “We play as a team. Chipper has said it a million times, but it’s not one person keeping us going. It’s someone new, a new face in the bullpen, helping us win a game. And we worry about one game at a time, and that comes from the manager.”

8. They have it going in a way that makes you believe they’ll keep it going. They didn’t panic when they lost nine consecutive games in April. They didn’t wring their hands over the lost lead Wednesday night. They press on. They’ve won or halved 20 of their past 21 series. Said Gonzalez, on board only a week: “When you watch the way they play ball every day, you think, ‘This is a great team.’ ”

“Great” overstates. This is a good team that has come to maximize every resource. It isn’t without flaws, but after 95 games it holds the best record in its league. Gonzalez again: “We play hard. We do the little things you have to do. We want to put ourselves in position and see what happens at the end of the year.”

What will happen: The Braves will play beyond the 162nd game for the first time since 2005.

247 comments Add your comment

AHolt

July 22nd, 2010
4:51 pm

Trashy

July 22nd, 2010
4:52 pm

Go Bravos, Awesome!

james

July 22nd, 2010
4:52 pm

Those padres just collapsed. What was all that about their number 1 ranked bullpen?

rc35

July 22nd, 2010
5:42 pm

It seems to me that the Braves are playing like the teams that always knocked us out of the playoffs or World Series. I would surely like to see us return the favor and win the Series this year!

vmguru

July 22nd, 2010
5:44 pm

I am sure someone will jump on here and call you names Mark but they will be wrong. Good assessment of this year’s Braves. I have been a Braves fan since 1969 and all of those early lean years just make all the division titles and now this 2010 resurgence all that much better. This group looks more like a team than some of the previous years’ winners – they really seem to enjoy playing the game every day and pull for each other to succeed. Even Blanco was very much a team player in the way he took the demotion despite some solid work on his part. A very good sign for the future if they can keep it up.

Keep up the good work Mark. (My first post – been reading for some time just never felt the urge to contribute).

Score

July 22nd, 2010
5:44 pm

willie

July 22nd, 2010
5:44 pm

Hudson, JJ, Hanson, Lowe, Medlen and a great bullpen? Even with average hitting this will be a tough team to stop.

jfreak13713

July 22nd, 2010
5:50 pm

No team in the NL is as good top to bottom as the Braves. They don’t have the BEST player at any position except maybe catcher but they have GOOD players at every position. They are a team that looks like the OLD braves in 1991 …. GO BRAVES

Joey

July 22nd, 2010
5:52 pm

Bat Masterson

July 22nd, 2010
5:53 pm

Foilin Moylan picks up un Dunn.

Pretty good bullpen too, Mark,

mikeDW

July 22nd, 2010
5:53 pm

Mark,
We were in the sam boat early in the season. I didn’t think we were going anywhere. The losses were mounting; the batters looked flailess. So now….I think it’s time….for you to write the biggest MEA CULPA ever…and please realize; it’s not just for you. It’s for a large part of the Braves’ Nation, who did not think this group had the heart or talent to be where we ae today!
Go Braves.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Bradley, Sport Fanatic, Allegra Coleman, Ashley Jacobsen, Andrew DeMillo and others. Andrew DeMillo said: RT @MarkBradleyAJC: Here are 8 reasons the #Braves will NOT squander their lead. http://bit.ly/d2YFrT (A jinx? Me? I thought that was be … [...]

bravesfan37

July 22nd, 2010
5:56 pm

What a fun game to watch today. Hudson pitched a brillant game. I would like to see Troy Glaus come back to his form in May, but you cannot stay that hot. This is fun and exciting. Looking forward to the rest of the season. Good to see Heyward hitting the ball hard again. Prado has had some bad breaks.

George Stein

July 22nd, 2010
5:57 pm

And…boom goes the jinx dynamite.

gadawgs

July 22nd, 2010
5:59 pm

Nice read Mark. You are light years ahead of your counterpart Shultz. I love this team.

Mike Jay

July 22nd, 2010
5:59 pm

Mark,

Good read enjoyed it and agree with it all. You did leave out the bullpen though. Simply stellar work all year and crucial come playoff time. Has there ever been such a thing as a positive/important 9 game losing streak? I can’t think of one. I calso can;t think of any team who has one and made the playoffs. Hmmm didn’t Denver a couple years ago have close to one that long?

Scrappy

July 22nd, 2010
6:03 pm

Great response to last night’s disappointment.

Gotta love the chemistry of this team.

dawginDC

July 22nd, 2010
6:04 pm

The Braves should have swept the padres…will take the 2 though…Go bravos!

chin music

July 22nd, 2010
6:06 pm

and if they lose the next nine games, mb, will you write them off again? this is a solid team, as it has been from opening day, but i expect the standings to tighten up a bit if the phillies get another solid starter and when chase utley comes back. that team is capable of reeling off a 17-3 run once their bats start clicking. there’s a lot of season left to be played, but if our biggest contributors can stay healthy for the remainder, there will be important baseball games at the ted come autumn.

Bradley!

July 22nd, 2010
6:07 pm

Damn you, Bradley. Damn you. Every time you do this to a team, you know what happens. You’re spot on, but I just hate it when YOU make predictions. Not that I’m superstitious – oh man, THAT would be bad luck….
Nice comments vmguru.

ErnisTbass

July 22nd, 2010
6:07 pm

Milosh wasn’t even warming up last night in a tie game real real late, nor in an 8-0 game when the pen needed some rest on a real hot day. Nobody else would want him so is he about to be waived whatever the cost or possibly traded for two balls and an order of sushi??

Larry

July 22nd, 2010
6:08 pm

Mark,

Agreed. However….

The reason none of this will matter is….Bobby Cox–the worst postseason manager in MLB history because he is the worst at finishing the deal.

Maybe this time will be different, but 14 last postseason game losses out of 15 chances are odds only a fool would gamble on!

Batman bin Suparman

July 22nd, 2010
6:10 pm

So, is Adrian Gonzalez flying to South Florida with the Braves?

Yes, I said Adrian.

Jack in Macon

July 22nd, 2010
6:10 pm

Lovin my some Braves…. This team is fun… This team is a team is full of baseball players… Loving it… Go Braves! I feel a trip to the world Series… Me thinks the Cards are the team we will have to beat in the end to get there… If so, then anything can happen… Good lord…. I’d love to pay the Yankees back on the national stage….

Ben

July 22nd, 2010
6:14 pm

9. The Mets and Phillies just aren’t that good.

If the Braves lead is to shrink, the Mets and Phillies have to start winning games, which neither team has done a lot of recently.

JohnSmith

July 22nd, 2010
6:15 pm

Everyone on this team contributes. The Braves can be every bit as pesky and scrappy as the Padres, but the beauty of it is, THEY DON’T HAVE TO BE. They have power here and there, hit for a decent average, take a healthy share of walks, take extra bases when they can, play solid D up the middle, have two great arms in the outfield on a nightly basis, and they can pitch. The Braves can win in a number of ways, and over the course of this season, they have. This is truly the mark of a versatile, winning team.

Alaska Braves Fan

July 22nd, 2010
6:16 pm

Larry: Go ahead, stink the place up with nonsensical statements like that. It’s important to be realistic and to keep our feet on the ground, but you seem not to be satisfied until you have popped every balloon and rained on every parade. Raspberries!

ABF

Hammerin Hank

July 22nd, 2010
6:21 pm

Funny how the Padres came in as supposedly the best defensive team in the league, but made some really boneheaded plays in this series. Venable looked lost on the fly ball that flew over his head, Hairston has a weak arm for a left fielder. He got nothing on the throw to the plate. They’d better not look behind them, the Giants are gaining.

Batman bin Suparman

July 22nd, 2010
6:25 pm

Now if only the Braves will sweep the Fish on the road. Meanwhile, here’s hoping the LA Galaxy beat the SJ Earthquakes …oh, and that Atlanta FINALLY gets Major League Soccer. Please, Arthur?

ReddJonn68

July 22nd, 2010
6:27 pm

Right on target Mark. I still say looking at it realistically that we could use some more speed, the only true threat on the base paths is J-Hey. I feel we need at least one more threat in this present lineup. Watching some of the Red’s game on ESPN last nite, I really like the type of game Dusty has his crew playing. Come playoff time runs are hard to come by, because everyone has decent pitching. We need at least one more dirty uniform at the end of these games, we could manufacture a few more runs when the game is close, like last nite.

mikeDW

July 22nd, 2010
6:28 pm

I think Larry had a point, ABF.
Bobby Cox is a great, regular season manager; but he tends to overwhelmingly fail in the post season.
I don’t claim to be an expert; I’m just a fan; but statistics don’t lie. I, Personally, believe it is because Cox is loyal to a fault, and will not play the “hot” players in the post season. In a shortened series, lifetime average should not factor in. Recent play should be the most determining factor….We all want to win; I’m sure Greg Norton and Nate McClouth would agree! Everyone, please feel free to agree, or disagree.

ABravesFan

July 22nd, 2010
6:29 pm

Another series win for the Braves. Let’s keep that going and the NL East would be ours soon enough.

With Diaz back and healthy, I feel that much better about this upcoming Florida series.

Alan

July 22nd, 2010
6:30 pm

I agree. This team feels so different than others in the past. I feel very confident this team can win the world series. How great would that be. Even going .500 the rest of the way puts them over 90 wins and easily a spot in the playoffs. But I think they will win 97-102, win the NL, have home field and beat the yanks or rays. I am hoping it’s the yanks for revenge but the rays would be cool too cause I might be in tampa during the time.

TruthSeeker

July 22nd, 2010
6:30 pm

Larry, I’ve seen you cite that statistic countless times over the years. While I’m certainly not going to defend Cox’s postseason record, your usage of that statistic is misleading. Only one out of the eight teams that makes the playoffs wins their last game. That’s like saying Joe Torre is a bad posteason manager because he’s lost his last eight final games of the postseason. He’s also got four World Series rings.

ReddJonn68

July 22nd, 2010
6:33 pm

Agreed mikeDW having been a Braves fan all my life, some of Bobby’s postseason move does leave you scratching your head. Not hating, just stating the truth.

Willy

July 22nd, 2010
6:36 pm

Whenver I see CAPS in the blog title I know Mark’s about to get busy. So big props to thee.

Jo Bling

July 22nd, 2010
6:37 pm

I like the optimism and the Braves have certainly looked good. They seem to have all the components. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. They have played 95 games, which is less than 60 percent of the season. I get a kick out of watching every year, as the dog days of August drag out and move into September, how baseball fans everywhere suddenly begin to remember just how long the major league baseball season really is. It’s an eternity, folks. So much is yet to happen. The Braves are going to hit a slide or two – it’s inevitable – and the Phillies are going to catch fire at some point (not guaranteed, but at least a likelihood). To say that the Phillies “just aren’t that good” is ridiculous. They are that good, and they are the World Champions. We’ll hear from them sooner or later. I like the Braves’ chances, though, for all the reasons Mark mentions above, plus our outstanding bullpen. It’s going to be a fun second half of the season, but I wish the Braves advocates would temper the talk of running away with the division. It could happen, but it’s a loooooong season.

Willy

July 22nd, 2010
6:39 pm

I don’t even have to read the blog to be convinced. I just know.

ReddJonn68

July 22nd, 2010
6:41 pm

I meant moves. Great point Truthseeker, but do you think that we would have one ring if Torre or LaRussa had been managing us for the same tenure as Bobby ???

Justin

July 22nd, 2010
6:41 pm

They played much better than all the teams they have played so far. Including the Padres, Mets, and Phillies. And they should have swept them today. They only team that worries me is the Cards. But they Braves will hang in there.

Larry

July 22nd, 2010
6:46 pm

Truthseeker,

Everything is a stat in baseball! Just yesterday they were pointing out the great W/L record of the Braves and Padres when leading after 7 or 8 innings. Well, for Pete’s sake, EVERY team has a great W/L record when leading after 8 innings!

Further, I would argue that when a manager and his players have to watch the other team celebrate on the pitcher’s mound 14 out of 15 last games of the postseason this just may be the most important statistic of all! It’s called finishing with a win, Truth, and that’s the truth!

As for Torre, yes, I would absolutely take a last postseason record of 4-11 for Bobby Cox. This would mean he has four rings and a .364 last postseason game winning % versus his embarrassing .071 winning % (1-14).

And “mikeDW” is correct in that Bobby always managing the same way in a 5 or 7 game series as he does in a 162 game marathon. He’s patience and tolerance pays of over 162 games; his utter, unabashed ignorance of strategic, situational, in-game decision making is legendary.

Thank goodness old Tommy Glavine pitched that one hitter against the Indians in game 6 of the ‘95 series or old Bobby Cox just might be a perfect 0-15–that’s a 0.00 winning percentage, Truth!

mikeDW

July 22nd, 2010
6:55 pm

Yeah, not tryin’ to hate; but I would definitley take 4 rings over 1.

mikeDW

July 22nd, 2010
6:56 pm

Oh yeah; And the one we got, was 15 years ago! Either that’s a long time, or we’re just all gettin’ onld.

James

July 22nd, 2010
6:57 pm

Braves need to trade for Jeff Francoeur he can revive his career back in Atlanta with a second chance.

Katherine

July 22nd, 2010
6:58 pm

9. Chipper has a deer thumb.

Srvtecej

July 22nd, 2010
7:00 pm

Really enjoyed this article. Well said. Not a great team but they are a very good and fun to watch team. Some real memorable games this year already.

Larry

July 22nd, 2010
7:03 pm

ReddJonn68,

Give Torre, LaRussa, Herzog, Leyland, Soscia, Francona, Anderson, Weaver, Lasorda or Gaston the likes of a Smoltz, Glavine, Avery, Maddux, Smith, Leibrandt, Merker, Stanton, Wohlers, Pena, Schmidt, Borbon, Bedrosian, Remlinger, Rocker, Mulholland, Hammond, Marquis, and Millwood, to name a few, to through out there in most or all of 14 consecutive season and, yes, any of these managers would certainly have lead thier teams to more than one final game victory.

We lost in 1992, 1993, 1996, 1998, 2001 and 2002 due to being out managed by a superior postseason manager–period!

Larry

July 22nd, 2010
7:03 pm

…insert “throw” and “led”

1eyedJack

July 22nd, 2010
7:05 pm

I have heard that Glaus historically starts to heat up in August.

ReddJonn68

July 22nd, 2010
7:11 pm

Hear ya loud & clear Larry, heres another thought replace Chipper for all those years & put Barry Bonds or Ryne Sandberg on the Braves for the same amount of years do we still have one ring ???