Sports fans have now reached the end of August, the most anticipated part of the year in which a crossroads is created between baseball and football. A great deal of fans will shift their focus from their MLB club of choice and turn towards a local college or professional football squad, particularly in the South where it is no secret that football is king.
Such an action will take place in households that were formerly focused on the Atlanta Braves through the summer months. Many see baseball as second fiddle to football as it is, but the 2014 season for the men who call Turner Field home has not exactly kept crowds on their feet; the team is currently sitting at 69-64, 6.5 games behind the NL East-leading Washington Nationals.
As easy a transition it could be to drop the Braves for the gridiron, it would be a mistake due to several instances that can occur in the final twenty-nine regular season games that Atlanta has left.
The biggest story that a fan will miss with Braves baseball at this juncture is shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who continues to put together a résumé that warrants calling the twenty-four-year-old the best defensive player in baseball. Simmons added another gem against the Mets on Wednesday night, throwing out Travis D’Arnaud on a play that ended the eighth inning and helped the Braves cling to a one-run lead. Simmons may not quite replicate his unique ability at the plate yet (.249 BA, 7 HRs, 43 RBIs), but his exploits in the infield usually mean at least one outstanding play per outing.
Atlanta is admittedly a hot-or-cold offensive squad, but right now the team is seeing great production from left fielder Justin Upton. Crowned as the club’s power hitter upon joining the team last year, Upton is working diligently at topping most of his number’s from a season ago, setting his sights on at least three more home runs and thirteen more hits after already topping his RBI and doubles totals from 2013. With a .320 batting average in the Braves’ last week of play, it goes without saying that the younger Upton is working hard to help this team stay competitive.
The last point to be made is the utter uncertainty of baseball in general. While the Braves are not atop the standings and are currently 1.5 games behind the NL Wild Card leaders, twenty-nine games to go means all sorts of antics can occur for Atlanta as well as another team. Whether it is injuries, acquisitions, or just improved play, any team can hit a hot streak during this time, including a Braves squad that has proven all too often that they can find some magic for a limited amount of time.
Atlanta fans should not fret quite yet and instead set their sights on the Wild Card, a position that is certainly still up for grabs. Not topping everyone in the East once again may put some pressure on manager Fredi Gonzalez, but considering the many losses (Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy) and disappointments (Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton) the team has encountered during this campaign, the fact that this team is still on the edge of punching a playoff berth should register as an accomplishment.