As Major League Baseball steams toward the All-Star break, the Atlanta Braves find themselves in first place in the NL East, and holding the best record in the National League.
That's no misprint. For a group that was picked to finish fourth in their division, the resurgent Braves have found success from some unlikely sources, and a familiar process.
First, the unlikely.
Martin Prado is leading the Braves with a .339 batting average that features 101 hits. Prado has a .380 on-base percentage, and is slugging at a .470 clip. No one would have predicted this kind of offensive output from Prado, as he has been a utility player for the Braves the past few seasons.
Meanwhile, a resurgence of Troy Glaus continues, as he's providing adequate power numbers with 14 home runs and 55 RBI.
Glaus had a slow start to the season, batting near .200 during April, but picked up the pace considerably in May, pushing his batting average to .280 for second on the team. Not bad for an injury-prone castoff who signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal with Atlanta before the season.
Another bright spot for the Braves has been the arrival of the heralded rookie, Jason Heyward. "J-Hey", has dazzled at times in the first half of the season, belting 11 home runs and 44 RBI. Heyward also has a few walk-off hits that have Braves fans and the baseball world buzzing.
During the glory years for Atlanta, in which they won 14 consecutive division titles 1991-2005, their formula for success was good starting pitching, solid defense and timely hitting. The current Atlanta boys of summer are copying that blueprint.
Even though none of the Braves starters are posting Greg Maddux- or Tom Glavine-like numbers, Derrick Lowe has nine wins, good enough for third in the NL, while Tim Hudson has a 2.34 ERA that ranks fifth among NL starters.
Jair Jurjens is due to come off of the injured list, which should contribute to the starting rotation as long as he returns to his previous form.
Atlanta's bullpen is also solid, converting 15 of 23 save opportunities.
The Braves' bats have been timely as well, posting a .264 team batting average, which is third in the NL. Atlanta hitters have pushed across 344 runs, and walked 317 times, both of which lead the NL.
Should the Braves continue the trends they have established thus far, it is not unreasonable to expect them to be right in the thick of the discussion for another division title, and a run at the World Series.
Once again, the road to the NL Pennant could run through Atlanta.
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