Entering Tuesday's All-Star game, the Atlanta Braves find themselves with a respectable 54-38 record—good enough for a five-game lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks for the National League Wild Card and still within striking distance of the first-place Philadelphia Phillies.
Although many believe that the team has yet to reach its full potential, there are a number of things that have gone right for the Braves so far this season; things that must continue to go right for the team to keep them in the hunt for the postseason.
This list will examine some of the key questions surrounding the Braves entering their series against the Washington Nationals, their first series since the All-Star break.
Entering this week's All-Star festivities, Braves setup man Jonny Venters leads all relievers in innings pitched with 55.1. Venters, who is currently holding opponents to a .171 batting average against, has appeared in 51 of the Braves' first 92 games this season.
Not far behind Venters is Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, who has notched exactly 46 innings pitched, eighth most among all relievers, in 47 games this season.
Although both young arms are All-Stars this season, manager Fredi Gonzalez must now ask himself if he is overusing both Venters and Kimbrel. The Braves will need both relievers if they plan on making any late runs in October.
This season, Braves shortstop Alex Gonzalez is just 2-for-32 when batting with runners in scoring position and two outs, a statistic that equates to roughly a .063 batting average. Gonzalez's sub-par hitting with two outs ranks him last among his teammates in that category.
The Braves will need Gonzalez to step up, as his .231 batting average and 27 RBI on the season are not nearly the kind of numbers they need in order to both catch and overtake the first place Phillies in the East.
Braves reliever Peter Moylan has not appeared in a game since April 14 against the Florida Marlins, as lower back surgery landed him on the 60-day disabled list the day following that outing.
If the veteran Moylan can return to form this season, the Braves will have arguably the best seventh, eighth and ninth-inning pitchers in all of baseball. Also, Moylan's return would help take some of the burden off of set-up man Jonny Venters, who may be able to finally enjoy a day off rather than taking the mound every day.
Following his last outing before the All-Star break, a six inning no-decision against the Philadelphia Phillies last Friday, Brandon Beachy found himself with a 3-1 record and a 3.21 ERA on the year. He's recorded six or more strikeouts in each of his last four games, and hasn't allowed more than three earned runs since April 14.
Late last season, Braves rookie Mike Minor fell apart on the mound after being overused, so a key to this year's success lies in the arm of Beachy and his ability to remain both healthy and effective over the course of the next three months.
Braves right fielder Jason Heyward has shown signs of improvement over recent weeks, the most notable of which was a 3-for-4 game against the Colorado Rockies on July 7, but is still not in peak form.
He is currently batting .226 with nine home runs and 22 RBI, both of which are under his totals from this time last year, albeit he did spent a significant amount of time on the disabled list. That being said, the Braves will need much more production out of the second-year outfielder in order to keep ahead of the pack in the National League.
The Dan Uggla of late has looked nothing like the Dan Uggla who was batting .152 in mid-April, but Braves fans are still wondering if he has broken out of his slump and can take some of the weigh off of Brian McCann's shoulders in regards to offensive production.
Currently, Uggla is batting .185 on the season with 15 home runs and 34 RBI. But, keeping that in mind, he is batting a torrid .320 over the past seven days, second only to Braves rookie Freddie Freeman (.333 BA) among Braves starters.
If Uggla has, indeed, turned his season around, National League pitchers are in for a lot of trouble.
When left fielder Martin Prado landed on the disabled list, manager Fredi Gonzalez called upon Jordan Schafer to fill his role at the top of the Braves' batting order, a role Schafer has performed well in.
Although Schafer's batting average is .231, he always seems to find a way to get on-base, thanks largely impart to his speed, a factor Braves fans haven't seen since Rafael Furcal dawned an Atlanta uniform nearly a decade ago. He has also notched two four-or-more hit games this season, games in which he crossed the plate a total of four times.
If Schafer continues to thrive at the top of lineup, the Braves will be a scoring threat nearly every inning that he leads off.
Martin Prado's return from the Disabled List is going to both shake up the Braves roster and give them another solid hitter in their lineup, assuming Prado is completely healthy and can pick up from where he left off.
In regards to a roster shake up, Prado, the Braves' left fielder, will force either Nate McLouth or Jordan Schafer to the bench, barring the nights Prado will be asked to fill in for Chipper Jones at third. So will manager Fredi Gonzalez bench the struggling McLouth or the unproven Schafer? Only time will tell.
Braves All-Star third baseman Chipper Jones elected to have knee surgery done with the All-Star break approaching in order to put himself in a better position for a second-half run. That being said, questions surround Jones' return, which he reportedly expects to come in only two to three weeks.
Jones, who is batting .259 on the season, has been a steady force in the Braves' lineup this season and will be a key figure, both on and off the field, as the Braves seek to return to the postseason for the second consecutive season.