Atlanta Braves: 6 Things That Can Get Them to the World Series
The Atlanta Braves have been doing quite well for themselves this year, boasting elite pitching and just enough hitting to scrape by with the league's fourth-best record as of today. But they are still second in their division behind the Phillies, and there are clear deficiencies in this squad that could prevent a title run. Here's what will happen for them to get to the World Series.
1. Keep Jair Jurrjens in Atlanta
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We all understand that it's a seller's market out there and Jair's value will never be higher. There's also a pretty good case to be made that Jurrjens is pitching above his true ability right now, leading to unsustainable success.
Those are good points and fair reasons to consider moving him. But right now, he is an ace. He doesn't register a lot of strikeouts and he doesn't necessarily bring with him the intimidation of Roy Halladay, but he's a damn good pitcher.
Jurrjens gets the job done, and unless he can be moved for a very good bat, he should stay here. We are in it to win it this year, and any trade that doesn't make the Braves better today should not be considered with Jair involved.
2. Figure out What to Do with Derek Lowe
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Yes, he's got a bloated contract. Yes, he is a frustrating player to watch. Yes, like every other Braves fan, I've called for his head more than once.
We also have younger guys like Mike Minor and Julio Teheran that can probably step in and do well in Lowe's absence.
But that's only one side of the story. The other side is that, come playoff time, Lowe is our most accomplished pitcher. He always slumps during the middle of the season, and he always bounces back in time for the playoffs.
If the Tigers are interested in him and a good deal can be made, I'm not opposed to moving Lowe because of his contract. Keeping him here isn't a bad option either, though, because if history is any indication, we'll need him soon.
3. Find a Way to Get Jordan Schafer on Base
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Schafer can make some bone-headed plays out there. Sometimes he takes poor angles on fly balls. Sometimes he makes head-scratching decisions when he's running the bases (this past Nationals series is good evidence of that).
Still, when Schafer gets on base, he scores. A lot. He's fast and he can steal bases, and with Prado, McCann, Freeman and a resurgent Uggla behind him, if he gets on base, he's probably going to score.
That said, he needs to get on base. He strikes out too much and he doesn't walk enough. He doesn't need to be Jose Reyes up there, never striking out. He's not going to get walked as much as Barry Bonds, either. But there's a middle ground in there somewhere that he can find. We need him to find it.
4. Protect Craig Kimbrel, Johnny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty
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These three guys are studs. Venters has been nothing less than dominant all year, and Kimbrel is making a good case for Rookie of the Year. Don't forget EOF, because his numbers are just as good. Throw in Sherill and Linebrink, and the Braves have an extremely capable group of relievers that can suffocate opposing offenses (though another right-handed reliever would be nice).
Unfortunately, Fredi Gonzalez has been relying an awful lot on these guys. Everyone knows how much they've thrown, and everyone knows how brittle pitchers can be. This is a case of not only needing them for the playoffs, but for the future as well. Maybe we lose a game here or there, but we can afford that if it means keeping our bullpen healthy.
5. Trick Someone into Taking Scott Proctor
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Maybe this is unfair, but I think Proctor needs to go before he hurts us anymore than he already has. His numbers aren't THAT bad, really, but he's the only pitcher that can step up to the mound and make the entire city of Atlanta groan in unison.
I'd trade him for a bag of oranges, maybe even grapefruits. Actually, I'd give someone else a bag of grapefruits to take him. Just please don't let him pitch again.
6. Dan Uggla, Keep Doing Your Thing
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His historically awful first half aside, Uggla has been tearing it up lately. His OPS this month has been a cool .896, and while he's still striking out a lot, he's been improving steadily.
Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann and Martin Prado are going to be great for us the rest of the year. Chipper is still a guy other pitchers don't want to face when healthy. Jason Heyward is too good to be hitting this badly, and he's going to bring it around.
Uggla is the wild card. If he can keep it up, then our offense goes from anemic to, well, pretty good. There are still holes in the lineup, of course. Schafer needs to get better, and Alex Gonzalez is always going to be a black hole at the backend of the order. But Brooks Conrad and Eric Hinske are good bench players, and hopefully we never see Wilkin Ramirez or Diory Hernandez again.
If Uggla can pull north of the Mendoza Line and keep up his good form, then our hitting problems don't seem so bad anymore. And quite frankly, winning it all might not be that crazy.