Atlanta Braves 2011: 5 Things the Braves Need To Do To Win the NL East
They've relied on a shutdown bullpen and timely hitting to storm into the break with the fourth-best record in the bigs.
So what exactly do the Braves need to do to overtake the Phillies and their incredible starting rotation?
Five relatively simple things that, if done, will assure the Braves their first division title since 2005.
1. Play Small Ball
The Atlanta Braves offensive woes are no secret. They lack a consistent home run threat and are forced to string together hits to score. A simple solution to their problem?
If the leadoff runner gets on base and McCann, Chipper or the No. 8 hitter isn't batting, BUNT! That gives you two chances at knocking that run home with a hit. Runner on second with no outs?
Lay one down.
If Dan Uggla, Jason Heyward and Alex Gonzalez don't like having to bunt, remind them of their batting averages.
Bottom line: The Braves need to manufacture more runs.
2. Get Dan Uggla Rolling
Is there anyone in baseball struggling more than Dan Uggla?
He's currently hitting .185—100 points lower than last year, and 70 points off his career average.
What's worse is that he isn't even getting on base. His OBP is a lowly .257 and he's only driven in 34 runs.
He showed signs of improvement just before the All-Star break, and if Uggla can hit .250 the rest of the way, the Braves will be in excellent shape.
3. Rest Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters
The back end of the Braves bullpen is the best in the game.
Venters is the best non-closing reliever in baseball and has as a microscopic ERA of 1.46. Kimbrel has been just as good with 28 saves and an incredible 14 K/9.
Fredi Gonzalez needs to be careful, though. Venters and Kimbrel have had the bulk of the workload and are on pace to both appear in 90 games.
The last thing the Braves need is for one of them to go down with an arm injury in August.
4. Take Martin Prado’s Return Slowly
It's a miracle the Braves have done so well with Martin Prado out of the lineup.
Though he's missed more than 30 games, he is one of the Braves' best hitters.
Through 61 games, Prado is fifth on the team in hits, fifth in RBI, fourth in batting average and fifth in runs.
He could make his debut off the DL this week and Fredi Gonzalez needs to keep a close eye on him. The Braves can't afford to lose Prado for another extended stretch, especially with Chipper dinged up.
The best part of Prado?
His versatility. He can play third base when Chipper is out, and can move out to left field when Chipper returns.
5. Trade for a Big Bat
Carlos Quentin and Hunter Pence are just some of the names that are floating around the Braves front office. No matter who the Braves acquire, the bottom line is that they actually make a move.
Their defense is fine, and their pitching is exceptional.
Their hitting, however, is abysmal.
The Braves need a home run threat, and they need it yesterday. With all of the young pitching the Braves have, they've got lots of trade pieces.
GM Frank Wren has got to make a deal.