7 Reasons the Atlanta Braves Can Make a Deep Playoff Run
With about two weeks left in the season, the Braves should have no trouble clinching at least one of the two wild-card berths.
What's next for the 2012 Braves? Do they have enough to make a serious run this postseason?
The answer is yes, and here's why.
1. Craig Kimbrel
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Just ask the Texas Rangers how hard it is to get the last out in a playoff game.
The fact that the 27th out is the hardest to get is cliche but true. Luckily for the Braves and manager Fredi Gonzalez, they have little fear in turning the ball over to closer Craig Kimbrel to record the last three outs.
In his second full season as the closer for the Braves, Kimbrel has been dominant.
Among National League closers with more than 40 innings pitched, Kimbrel leads in saves, opponents' batting average and strikeouts per nine innings.
The Braves clearly have a better closer situation than the current playoff teams in the National League, as Kimbrel is arguably the best closer in baseball.
If the Braves can enter the last inning holding a lead, they will make some noise this postseason.
2. Kris Medlen
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The Braves have featured a solid rotation with plenty of starters having decent campaigns.
However, it wasn't until recently that one of these arms stepped up and established himself as the ace.
That would be Kris Medlen.
The Braves have won a remarkable 21 straight games in which Medlen has started. In those games, Medlen's posted a 13-0 record with a 2.41 ERA.
Since joining the rotation this season, he's given up a total of seven earned runs in his 10 starts.
Look at the past five World Series champions—the Cardinals, Giants, Yankees, Phillies and Red Sox. The Cardinals had Chris Carpenter, the Giants leaned on Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, the Yankees rode C.C. Sabathia, the Phillies had World Series MVP Cole Hamels and Josh Beckett dominated in the 2007 postseason.
It's critical to have an ace to make a deep postseason run.
The Braves now have that guy in Medlen.
3. Open Pennant Race
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The National League does not feature a clear favorite as the postseason nears.
The top two teams—the Nationals and Reds—are young ball clubs that have little playoff experience on their rosters.
The Nationals have already shut down Stephen Strasburg, while the Reds may have some issues with closer Aroldis Chapman.
The Reds have ace Johnny Cueto, but the rest of their rotation—while solid—is not scary.
The best starting staff belongs to the Giants with Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, who's finally rounding into form.
Even the Giants have issues scoring runs at times and could be without outfielder Melky Cabrera.
The Braves also have questions—depth of staff, consistent offense. However, so do the other teams, which means the National League is wide open.
4. Team Defense
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You can not afford to give up unearned runs in the postseason.
The Braves have played great defense all season as they have committed the fewest errors, 79, in the National League and lead the Senior Circuit with a .986 team fielding percentage.
The Braves have Gold Glove-caliber players in shortstop Andrelton Simmons and first baseman Freddie Freeman. They cover great range in the outfield with speedsters Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward. Super utility player Martin Prado plays about any position on the field above-average, filling any hole manager Fredi Gonzalez asks him to.
Chipper Jones and Dan Uggla have below-average range but catch everything hit at them.
Catcher David Ross could play a prominent role off the bench to provide the Braves with some extra defense in late-inning situations.
Defense is often overlooked in today's baseball. However, the postseason reveals the importance of a strong fielding team.
5. Chipper Jones
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Chipper Jones continues to make lasting memories in his final season in the majors.
The 40-year-old could add to those memories this postseason, but he will no doubt provide a veteran presence in the dugout.
Chipper has been through every atmosphere in his career and will not be intimidated by the postseason pressure.
There will be many young guys on the Braves making their playoff debuts. It will be important for them to have a veteran guy to look to for guidance.
And let's not forget that Chipper is still getting it done with his bat. He's still getting on base, and his presence alone in the lineup will give the Braves an added dimension.
Veteran leadership becomes vital this time of year, and the Braves are fortunate to have one of the best in the game.
6. Michael Bourn
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It becomes increasingly difficult to string together multiple hits and runs in the playoffs.
Teams have to play small ball and do the little things at times to manufacture a vital run.
That's where Michael Bourn's speed will be an asset for the Braves.
Bourn can "steal" some runs for the Braves in the playoffs by stealing bases or advancing on routine plays.
He can turn shallow fly ball outs into runs. Bourn can bunt to get on and turn a single into a double with something you can't teach—speed.
Braves fans would love to see Bourn heat up the last few weeks heading into the postseason.
Either way, the Braves will find a way to utilize Bourn's speed to put pressure on the defense and ignite a rally.
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It takes an entire roster to make a World Series run.
Somewhere along the road, a utility player will play a key role in winning a game.
Give general manager Frank Wren credit as he's given manager Fredi Gonzalez some nice pieces on his bench that will help this postseason.
Newly acquired Reed Johnson leads the league in pinch-hits and can play all three outfield positions.
Catcher David Ross plays good defense and knows how to call a game while also providing a solid bat.
Juan Francisco adds some power off the bench while veterans Eric Hinske and Lyle Overbay provide experience and can give a quality at-bat.
It will be interesting to see how Gonzalez shakes out his playoff roster, but he does have some bench players who can contribute in many different ways.