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What Atlanta Braves Must Do to Really Become World Series Contenders

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What Atlanta Braves Must Do to Really Become World Series Contenders
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Atlanta can collectively hit the cover off the ball, but it needs tune-ups in other areas to excel in October.

The Atlanta Braves are taking the National League East. With preseason World Series favorites the Washington Nationals seriously under-performing, this division is as good as locked up. And the Braves are no strangers to NL East titles—not too long ago, a postseason trip was virtually guaranteed for Atlanta year after year. However, its last World Series win was in '95.

While Atlanta doesn't currently have many holes, here are a few moves they can make in the remaining days of the regular season to bolster their roster and improve their chances of going all the way.    

 

Add A Starter

Atlanta's acquisition of Scott Downs was a smart and necessary move for the team. However, finding another arm for the rotation is a step the Braves need to take if they want to have any chance against say, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

Someone like Oakland's Brett Anderson (who may be bullpen-bound, a waste of his talent) could help, but he's young and cheap so there's little chance he'd clear waivers.

So we're looking at old and/or overpriced players on non-contenders. At the moment, the most probable option is San Francisco's Barry Zito, who cleared waivers on August 14th.

According to Danny Knobler of CBS Sports (article in the preceding link), Zito makes $20 million this season with an impending $7 million buyout, so obviously no one jumped at the opportunity to snatch him up. The southpaw's contract and 5.31 ERA don't help his cause, but he's got some postseason success, so don't count him out completely.

More potentially lucrative options would include San Francisco's Tim Lincecum (who can move into a relief role if need be), Milwaukee's Yovani Gallardo and Toronto's Mark Buehrle.

 

Find A Guy That Can Hit For Average

While the Braves have no shortage of power (they boast the second-best team slugging percentage in the NL with .414, behind Colorado—and they have Coors Field), they could really use an upgrade in the average department to compete with the likes of the Cardinals and Dodgers

Two guys the Braves could look into are Placido Polanco and Marlon Byrd.

Right before the trade deadline, ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted this:

Ignoring the fact that, minus the Miami label, this statement could be a decade old, Polanco is a career .297 hitter and has a knack for the bloop single and finding holes in the infield. Given Atlanta's .254 team batting average, his bat could certainly help.

The 37-year-old is versatile in the infield and comfortable moving around in the batting order, so the Braves would benefit from his flexibility. The free agent-to-be is a perfect rental option. 

According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, it's quite possible that Byrd doesn't clear waivers despite interest from several teams:

That being said, the outfielder would be a nice fit for Atlanta.

His .285/.333/.512 slash line this year is impressive considering he's 35 and he fell off the map for a considerable period of time. ESPN's Mark Simon has taken note:

While Jason Heyward has been all-out dominating of late, he still only sports a .255 average. B.J. Upton has outdone himself this season and is easily sitting below the Mendoza Line at .188. A possibility could be moving Justin Upton to center and playing Byrd in left.

 

Get Healthy

Atlanta's had its fair share of gut-wrenching, season-ending injuries this year.

Seeing as solid pitching is paramount in the playoffs, the imminent returns of Paul Maholm and Jordan Walden will be huge on a team that already boasts one of the better staffs in baseball.

Maholm has only pitched to the tune of a 9-9 record and 4.41 ERA in 2013, while Walden's posted a more impressive 4-2 record with a 2.50 ERA out of the bullpen.

Shortstop Tyler Pastornicky, who was seeing time at second in the absence of Dan Uggla, sprained his left knee on August 14th. Although the Braves need no help at shortstop with phenom Andrelton Simmons taking the league by storm, Ramiro Pena's season-ending shoulder surgery at the end of June left the team needing a utility man's services.

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