After a successful return to baseball over the weekend against the Phillies, the Mets welcome the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves for a four-game weekday step. While not as blistering hot as they were in April, the Braves still hold a 6.5 game lead over second-place Philadelphia and 10 games over the Mets. My guest today is Jeff Schafer, editor of FanSided’s Tomahawk Take.
Will DeBoer, Rising Apple:With a 6.5 game lead on the Phillies, the Braves have the most comfortable cushion of any division leader in baseball. How confident should Braves fans be that the team will win its first division title since the end of The Streak?
Jeff Schafer, Tomahawk Take: Two words…not confident. I say this because every Braves fan (and possibly ever MLB fan) knows what has happened this past two seasons with the September collapse in 2011 and the Wild Card loss to the Cardinals in 2012. We shouldn’t take anything for granted, and really no one should at this point in the season. Still lots of baseball to be played.
It’s kind of funny though…this season has been different, by not really paying attention to the standings and just being focused on the game that day. This year, EVERY Braves fan complains after EVERY defeat and how the team is horrible and can’t drive in runs. It’s become ridiculous but shows how much potential and how much the fans want them to win. One game at a time and we will be fine!
WD: Despite the division lead, Atlanta has its fair share of offensive problems, starting with the Upton Brothers. How much patience do the Braves have with B.J., and what adjustment does Justin have to make to get back to his April form?
JS: Justin Upton started this season off on a tear while on the other hand his older brother, B.J., did not. We will never truly know what is going on in each other’s head but it could of been a sibling thing where his younger brother was out doing him so in his head he was trying harder. B.J. was starting to get his bat going in the week prior to the injury so it’s kind of a shame with the timing but we will see when he comes back. Traditionally he’s been a 2nd half guy….plus with the money we’ve paid him, he’s playing everyday he can.
WD:Jason Heyward seems to be perpetually overrated: this season he’s only hitting .227 with an OPS of .695. Which is closer to the real Jason Heyward: the 2010/12 edition or the 2011/13 model?
JS: I’m still a firm believer in Jason Heyward. He may have a .227 batting average now but that’s up from .150 a month ago. He started off slow and seemed to have an issue with his hitting mechanics. He seemed to have fixed these and in June has a great month and is getting on base. I think another thing was that Heyward was trying to carry the team out of the #2 batting hole. But we really need is a guy getting on base, he’s now doing that and coming off the DL in perfect timing to see you guys! By years end he’ll have that batting average up to the .270-.280 mark.
WD: An inverse of most teams in baseball, Atlanta seems to have a lockdown bullpen and a shaky rotation. Will the Braves be in the market for another starter in the next week?
JS: Starter? I doubt it….Reliever? I say yes. Braves started the year with an awesome bullpen but with the injuries to Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty and other key guys, our bullpen has been the shaky part. Braves are currently looking for relief help and probably a lefty. The known is that the Braves do not have a clear Ace of the staff but have solid guys who can carry us into October. Watch out, you may see Alex Wood in the rotation!
WD: How noticeable is Chipper Jones‘s absence from the lineup?
JS: I think it’s more noticeable when you attend a game in person than watching on TV. Going to a game you miss the star power he had on the field and the Crazy Train song as he walks to the plate. Watching on TV though, I believe Braves fans have embraced a new era and cherish his memories.
WD: For the Braves to make a deep run in October, what has to happen?
JS: The outfield that once was deemed “the greatest outfield in the MLB” to finally all play well together and click at the plate. Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann to continue putting up great numbers and leading the Braves offensively. Chris Johnson to keep hitting the ball and getting on base. Andrelton Simmons and Dan Uggla to be a bit more consistent at the plate. Mike Minor and Julio Teheran to continue to grow into great young pitchers. And our bullpen starting with Craig Kimbrel and Jordan Walden to stay strong and healthy.
The Mets and Braves square off tonight at Citi Field, as Dillon Gee takes the hill opposite Julio Teheran. Visit Tomahawk Take for Jeff Schafer’s analysis of the series. You can also follow him on Twitter.