The Atlanta Braves have been playing great this season.
They are tied for the second-best record in the National League, and they have a six game lead in the wild card race.
Their chances of making the postseason are strong.
However, there are a few matters that could thwart them from the playoffs, and must be taken care of in order to guarantee their success.
In the first half of the season, the Atlanta Braves had undoubtedly the best pitching staff in baseball.
Since the All-Star break, this has not been so.
Their overall team ERA, which was a stellar 3.11 in the first half of the season, has fallen to 4.31 in the second half.
It is mainly the starting pitching that has not been at all consistent this half of the season.
Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, and Derek Lowe, three of the most important players on the Braves roster, all have ERAs above 6.00 in the second half.
If they continue to pitch this poorly, the Braves may have trouble securing their playoff spot.
Recently the Braves have been having difficulty winning against their below-.500 opponents.
This has mainly been occurring within their own division, which is a problem, because the Nationals, Marlins, and Mets are three of the teams the Braves play the most frequently.
Against the Washington Nationals, the Braves are 6-6, which is very disappointing, considering the contrast of the two teams' records.
The Braves are 9-3 against the Florida Marlins, which is not at all bad, though taking into consideration the 57-67 record of the Marlins, it could be better.
Against the New York Mets, the Braves are 6-6, which is much worse than expected.
18 of the Braves' final 40 games are against these three teams, which is concerning.
If they do not begin to play more impressively against below-.500 teams, they may have trouble even making the playoffs.
Recently, the Braves have been struggling to achieve hits with runners in scoring position.
In the last ten games, they have hit 25-103 (.242) with RISP, which is slightly discouraging.
Part of this is likely due to injuries, as their season average with RISP is .265.
Hopefully, the Braves will manage to step up their hitting while runs can be scored, but if not, they could have trouble winning games.
The Braves' injuries have recently been a prominent worry for the team.
Currently, Tommy Hanson, one of the Braves' most consistent starting pitchers, is injured, which is an unfortunate blow to the team.
Also, Peter Moylan, an important reliever to the Braves, has been missing from the bullpen for much of this year.
A couple other of the Braves' best players have recently recovered from injuries, among them Jair Jurrjens and Brian McCann.
Hopefully, the Braves will manage to hold their position in the standings while they recover from their ailments.
Jason Heyward's performance has been extremely disappointing this season.
He obviously has the potential to be great, but currently, he is very much struggling offensively.
He has recently been taking days off to give Jose Constanza more playing time.
By this time, it seems necessary that Heyward takes some time in the minor leagues, and hopefully improve enough to be able to resume competing in the majors.
Luckily, Jose Constanza is currently hitting .394, and should handle the job well enough, and at least contribute better offense than Heyward for a while.
During this entire season, Derek Lowe has struggled to pitch well.
He has not yet achieved this, as he is currently 7-11 with a 4.89 ERA.
The main reason the Braves would like to keep Lowe on their roster is his past performances at the end of the season.
His career ERA in the final two months of the season is 3.53, and in the postseason it is 3.21.
However, Lowe has not had such a high ERA for the season since 2004, which is not an encouraging sign.
In this situation, the best option would be to allow one of the Braves' amazing minor league pitchers take up Lowe's starting role.
Perhaps once Tommy Hanson returns to the Braves' roster, Mike Minor will be given a chance in Lowe's starting spot.
Yet another of the Braves' starting pitchers with recent struggles is Jair Jurrjens.
As the team's ace for the first half of the season, Jurrjens' recent performance is a major disappointment.
In the month of August, Jurrjens has pitched two games, both of which he received losses for, and has an ERA of 8.18.
Fortunately, he has the excuse of an injury, and should eventually return to his pre-All-Star break form.
With any luck, Jurrjens should once again claim his role as the Braves' ace.
The Braves can greatly improve their team with September call-ups, because of their amazing farm system.
They can take care of a few pitching issues with their "Big 4" pitching prospects, two of whom are currently experiencing the majors, and showing great promise.
The Braves can also receive back-up players in the infield, such as Edward Salcedo and Tyler Pastornicky.
The Braves have the luxury of a strong farm system, which can be easily turned to in certain situations.
The Braves could improve their team through a waiver deadline trade.
If they were to make a trade, it would probably be nothing significant; however, it could be a great improvement nonetheless.
They could look for a reliever to help out in the bullpen, although with the recent addition of Arodys Vizcaino, this may not be necessary.
The most helpful trade would be for a bench player, preferably in the infield.
Braves' players such as Brooks Conrad, Diory Hernandez, and Julio Lugo have been very much underperforming, and an extra bat could be of use in this area.
Currently, it seems as though it will be the Giants the Braves must finish ahead of.
The Braves are ahead of the Diamondbacks by 3.5 games, and ahead of the Giants by six, which gives the Braves a very positive outlook for the end of the season.
If they continue to play as well as they currently are, the Braves should not have much trouble making it into the playoffs.