The Atlanta Braves need to sweep (dream scenario) or win (ideal) this weekend’s series against the Washington Nationals if they expect to play in October.
I’ve been around, played, or studied baseball for over 20 years and I can honestly say this is the first time I will say something like this in Early August about a baseball club. But the Braves are playing their worst baseball of the season (eight game losing streak after an 0-8 West coast road trip), and they don’t have lightning in a bottle coming from Triple-A or off a major injury.
I was at Dodger stadium last Wednesday when the Braves couldn’t contain a suddenly rejuvenated Matt Kemp. I chalked it up to running into a buzz saw of a Dodgers team that has been hot of late. I watched the 12-inning back and forth they had with the Padres last Saturday and wondered how a team could look so inept at the slightest of fundamentals when it comes to putting together a good at-bat. It wasn’t shocking that they lost but how they lost; squandering a bases-loaded, no-out opportunity in the top of the 12th inning and Kimbrel (who shouldn’t have been out there another inning after his shaky 11th) giving up the game-winner.
There is blame to go around while the Braves slip further and further back to .500 in the standings but I want to focus on something that might be the most alarming part of this whole situation: key members of the Braves bullpen/staff aren’t getting the job done. David Hale hasn’t adjusted to the bullpen the Braves need him to, Shae Simmons has been hurt, Anthony Varvaro has an ERA above five since the break, and Mike Minor can’t be trusted enough in the rotation to keep running him out there every fifth day.
Without one of their top starters performing and a shaky back-end of the bullpen is it a wonder the Braves have lost their last nine one-run games?
Offensively the Braves have been getting good production from Freeman, Heyward, Justin Upton, and Chris Johnson but holes still remain to the point where their contributions aren’t being taken advantage of. Bonifacio, at this point, should play centerfield in place of BJ Upton and bat leadoff, and Tommy La Stella should come right after that to provide the opportunity for the guys hitting in the heart of the order.
A bright side in all of this? The Braves are fully capable of getting this thing right. How? Lets talk about it.
David Carpenter and Jordan Walden are your bridge to Craig Kimbrel, now. Dating back to July 12th Carpenter has given up two earned runs and struck out 14. His early season issues seem to be corrected and that will be much-needed. Jordan Walden has an injury history, but when healthy he’s as good as advertised since coming to the Braves from Anaheim (2 ER, 18 K’s in 11.2 IP since July 1).
At this point those need to be your go-to guys at the end of the game because the production warrants it. The starters for the Braves can get you six innings, so utilize the hot hand and get things right at the end of the game.
Nothing (and I mean NOTHING) makes my blood boil more than seeing BJ Upton batting leadoff. Bonifacio has to be the man in centerfield and the leadoff spot of the lineup if the Braves are going to have any shot at putting runs on the board. Andrelton Simmons can’t go without blame either, and it might be worth considering Ramiro Peña getting a few extra days in the starting lineup down the stretch until Simmons is A.) healthy and B.) capable of giving a more professional at-bat when it counts. Not striking out is great, but the results haven’t been there when he makes contact.
This is crunch time for the Braves. A message needs to be sent that they want this division and aren’t out of it. If they don’t make changes, however, the Wild Card will be there only shot at October baseball.
And we know how much the Braves want to avoid any thought of that scenario.