After dropping three of four to the Cardinals, the Atlanta Braves look to put the series behind them and move toward capturing their first division title since 2005.
With 33 games remaining the Braves sit pretty with a 13-game lead over the NL East rival Washington Nationals. They whittled their magic number to twenty after salvaging the fourth game in the series with the Cards combined with a Nats loss on Sunday.
At this point, the Braves are all but certain to raise another NL East championship banner over Turner Field’s outfield pavilion. But a team that lost veteran starter Tim Hudson to a broken ankle and leadoff man Jason Heyward to a fractured jaw (if you haven’t seen it check it out here but be forewarned, it’s graphic) obviously has concern headed into October.
Lets take a look at these injuries and how they affect Atlanta’s World Series chances.
Jason Heyward was hit in the jaw by a Jonathan Niese 90 mph slider in a Braves 4-1 win over the Mets on August 21st. Since being inserted into the leadoff role, the weak spot of an otherwise potent lineup, Heyward raked, putting up numbers that finally coincided with the lofty expectations placed on him since being named baseball’s number one prospect in 2010.
As the Braves leadoff man Heyward hit .348 with four home runs while leading the Braves to a 19-4 record. After starting the season on a twelve game winning streak, the Braves had been largely anemic, hovering around .500. It was Heyward that lit a fire under the collective bums of his teammates and essentially won the East midway through August.
With Heyward out 4-6 weeks the Braves have the mindset that they won’t have him back. If he does return for October he can’t be expected to produce the same numbers. Hitting is predicated on timing, consistency and confidence. It will take weeks or months for Heyward to find his August groove. Unless he makes a miraculous recovery don’t look for him to produce again until 2014.
An aging Tim Hudson was having a very un-Huddy like season posting an 8-7 record with a 3.97 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. While Hudson was in decline throughout 2013 he was still the only veteran presence on Atlanta’s staff. Current Braves starters have a combined one postseason start. That was the wildcard playoff game started by Kris Medlen last September against St. Louis. Experience looms huge in the playoffs and Hudson would have been the go-to veteran in must win games against playoff quality lineups.
Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Kris Medlen are all unproven commodities in the playoffs.
Minor has been the staff ace posting a record of 13-5 and an ERA of 2.99. Recently he has looked tired and inconsistent. Late in 2012 he suffered from fatigue, and it looks like he may be wearing down again. He’s still the leading candidate to start NLDS game one for Atlanta. However, he did look good throwing seven innings of one run baseball against St. Louis on Sunday preventing the four game sweep.
Teheran has shown glimpses of greatness that had many scouts raving throughout his ascent from minors to majors. While he’s shown tremendous poise for a 22-year-old, he’s still a rookie and a rookie cannot be trusted in critical games in October.
Kris Medlen had a historic run to finish the 2012 season. While he seems close to finding his groove, he hasn’t been the same guy as last year during that dominant run. If he regains his Maddux-like command, Medlen gives the Braves a truly dominant arm for the postseason, but if he reverts back to his early season form, we may see the Braves flounder.
While not injured (although I would argue he’s psychologically damaged) I’ll touch on B.J. Upton. Simply put, the guy has been abysmal. After signing the most lucrative free agent contract in Braves history, he has subsequently hit .182 with 8 homers and 21 RBIs with a .263 OBP. Again, abysmal for a guy that was once a key cog in Tampa Bay’s World Series run. Don’t expect much production out of him in October, and don’t look for Fredi Gonzalez to give him much playing time. Atlanta’s skipper lost confidence in B.J. a while ago, and now the elder Upton is voicing frustration at not being in the lineup. Not a good idea B.J. Fredi has to consider leaving him off the postseason roster altogether.
Too bad GM Frank Wren can’t use a mulligan on B.J.’s contract. With four years left, this one could haunt the Braves for years.
After a great season thus far, the Braves are without a catalyst at the top of the lineup when the real season begins in October. Braves Country is praying Jordan Schafer regains his early season form before a stress fracture put him on the shelf for two months.
To have any chance against the Pirates, Cardinals and Dodgers; Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton need to rake. And there’s no one saying they can’t, but the Braves have been known for going cold once October rolls around. It always seems like something goes wrong for them in the playoffs. Like the nutty missed infield fly call in the wild card game last year.
At least the Braves can rely on a dominant bullpen. But Gonzalez, as he has been known to do, has worked them hard over the course of the season. I’m not sold Kimbrel & Co. can keep this pace up. Plus, the Braves need early runs to get to the strength of the pen. Again, not sure they they will have many early leads come October.
With inconsistent starting pitching, a fledgling lineup, and an inability to score first, the Braves are looking at another October early exit square in the face.
If the Braves have one thing going in their favor, when the leaves start to fall, expect the unexpected.