ATLANTA- The National League east leading Atlanta Braves are three games up on the Philadelphia Phillies with 30 games left to play. Most Braves fans would have hoped to send Bobby Cox off with a World Series win, but most of those predictions were made with the clouded vision of hope. But, it is September and the Braves are playing some of the best baseball in the league. While World Series dreams are still on the hearts of Braves fans, making the playoffs and completing the first step to this dream is looking more and more realistic.
A huge component to the Braves success this season has been their production off the bench. When Chipper Jones was injured, Omar Infante stepped in to play second base while Martin Prado played third. When Infante needed a day off or while Prado was on the disabled list, Brooks Conrad filled the gap in the line up. Melky Cabrera played some center field before Rick Ankiel was acquired while Nate Mclouth was in Triple A. While Troy Glaus has struggled during portions of this season, Eric Hinske contributed to a lot of the Braves success.
Not only has Atlanta found success filling gaps in their line ups but their pitchers have brought a lot to the team this year. When Jair Jurrjens went on the disabled list, Chris Medlen filled the void in the pitching rotation by recording a 6-2 record with a 3.68 ERA in 14 games. Medlen had to have Tommy Johns surgery and Mike Minor was called up from Triple A and is 3-0 with a 3.91 ERA. Jonny Venters was called up in mid-April and has been a huge boost to the Braves bullpen. The rookie reliever has a 1.71 ERA in 62 games this season.
The depth of the Braves lineup and pitching staff will begin to be more and more productive as the season ends. While Nate Mclouth’s .161 batting average doesn’t strike fear into opposing pitchers, his speed could be a huge help as a late inning pinch runner. Matt Diaz has proved that he can hit off the bench in clutch situations.
Other than Brian McCann, the stars of the Braves team were unheard of last season. Jason Heyward was a highly thought of prospect in the minor leagues but he was so young. Martin Prado was a back up second baseman behind Kelly Johnson and Omar Infante was a highly valued utility man off the bench. Now these three men are leading the charge for the Braves bid for a NL East title.
The thing that sets this team apart is just that, they are a team, in every sense of the word. Behind their leaders are a host of players that are ready and able to contribute when their number is called. A team full of role players, and each player has successfully filled their role this year. With arguably one of the greatest managers to fill out a lineup card calling the shots, this team is not dreaming of a World Series anymore because it is becoming a reality.