The 2008 Atlanta Braves. Can they make a push for the 2008 playoffs?
Well, let’s take a look at their season so far.
Considered to be a dark horse in the 2008 NL East race, the Braves came into 2008 with a much improved pitching staff that featured John Smoltz, Tim Hudson and Tom Glavine and a formidable lineup anchored by switch-hitters Mark Teixeria and Chipper Jones.
Unfortunately for the Braves, they have been unable to shake the injury bug, losing several key players for long lengths of time. Notable injuries for Atlanta include Glavine, Peter Moylan, Rafael Soriano, Matt Diaz, and ace Smoltz for the entire season.
However, the Braves have shown signs of life this season and have enjoyed several pleasant surprises. Jair Jurrjens, Jorge Campillo, and Jo-Jo Reyes have all shown they're quality starters as well as getting good production from rookies such as Yunel Escobar and Gregor Blanco.
In order for Turner Field to host a playoff series this fall, the Braves must improve on their weaknesses so far this season. I have compiled a list of needs for the Atlanta Braves to address if there is to be baseball in Atlanta come October:
1.) Get Healthy and Stay Healthy!
The Braves have had issues with injuries this entire season. No question. Injuries all over the place. Veterans Smoltz and Glavine have both shown signs of their age and could both be out for the year.
In addition, God only knows if Mike Hampton can even get through a pre-game warm-up without injuring himself. Atlanta's line-up has also suffered due to the injury bug. New centerfielder Mark Kotsay has had a recurrence of his back injury from a year ago and slugger Matt Diaz injured his knee while sliding into the outfield wall in Milwaukee. Chipper Jones' injury woes continue and Escobar has had recent issues with his shoulder ever since injuring it sliding into first base to avoid a pick-off throw.
However, once the Braves return to full strength, the bench players will have more experience and be better because and Atlanta, overall, will play better baseball.
2.) Acquire a Power Hitter in the Outfielder
Buyers or sellers? If the Braves want to make a playoff push, acquiring a power-hitting outfielder is key.
The Braves have suffered from a lack of production from their corner outfielders this season and injuries to the opening day starters hasn’t helped. All the Atlanta corner outfielders, sans Jeff Francoeur, have combined for a dismal 35 RBI’s and a .239 batting average among 5 players* and 331 at-bats. Francoeur hasn’t been great either, batting .233 and hitting only eight homers. Hopefully, his short stint at Double-A Mississippi will wake up his bat.
Possible candidates to fill the void in Atlanta’s outfield include Pittsburgh’s Jason Bay and Xavier Nady and long shot Matt Holliday of Colorado.
3.) Win Close Games…on the Road!
Winning one-run ballgames cannot be stressed enough for this Atlanta team. The Braves have lost a unbelievable 22 straight one-run games on the road, their last one-run road win coming on August 9, 2007.
However, it’s not only the one-run games that they’re losing. The Braves are an abysmal 13-30 on the road in 2008 and have yet to win a one-run game on the road. A portion of the blame falls on the inexperienced bullpen and some can be credited to the injuries that have depleted the starting rotation and the lineup.
Overall, healthy or not, Atlanta should be winning at least some of these close games and if they want to reach the postseason, they better start now.
Well, there you have it. If the Braves can achieve, or at least improve on, these three steps, they will make a run at the postseason. Personally, as a Braves fan, I’d love to see them reach October again. Whether that happens or not, it is up to Bobby Cox and the “Team of the 90s.”