Atlanta Braves: Still in the hunt for the NL East

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 08: Freddie Freeman
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 08: Freddie Freeman /

The Atlanta Braves (42-45) this past weekend had an incredible opportunity to put themselves in the playoff conversation before settling for a measly series split against the division leading Washington Nationals. With that being said, welcome to the halfway point of the season ladies and gentlemen, and with it comes speculation for the remainder of the way to October.

While some will simply say the Braves need to pat themselves on the back the rest of the season for being ahead of schedule, it’s abundantly clear that this team can still compete for the division crown. Yes, you read that correctly. The Atlanta Braves currently sit 9.5 GB heading into the All Star break, but let us not forget how hot this team got heading into it. Prior to their tough stretch of series against the Houston Astros and Nationals this Braves team won 11 of 16, and showed signs of greatness.

I’ll admit, the Braves reeled off 11 of 16 against the Marlins, Giants, Brewers, Padres, and Athletics, but come on they were toeing the line of .500 ball. The pitching as of late has been nothing shy of phenomenal with R.A. Dickey‘s resurgence, and the rotation has proven they can win ball games.

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One of the biggest factors in allowing this young Braves squad an opportunity to give the Nationals a run for their money is the trade deadline. The last few seasons the front office has not been very kind to the fan base, with a rebuild underway. Atlanta is in desperate need of a revamping of the bullpen with good to arms plaguing the team thus far, and don’t even get me started on Jim Johnson.

All jokes aside, the Braves have shown they can beat the Nationals, and do it often. In the last three series the Braves have now won 2 of 3 splitting this last four game set. If it had not been for Johnson’s blown 4-1 lead in the ninth, this team’s current hole would not be as deep. Plain and simple, the Braves have shut down the Nationals bats for a good portion of the season, and if you need evidence look no further than the 13-0 shutout this past weekend. Not to mention that was the Nationals first time being shut out all season.

Is it going to be an easy task? Absolutely not. According to Grant McAuley of CBS Sports, the Braves had one of the easiest schedules in the first half. Following the All Star Break, the Braves will play host to the Wild Card leading Arizona Diamondbacks twice in two weeks, host the Chicago Cubs, and then play the Los Angeles Dodgers twice in two weeks. The road is by no stretch filled with teams 20 games below .500, but rather teams trying to stake their claim in their own respective divisions.

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One the benefits to the All Star Break is the amount of time the players get off, and the Braves clubhouse needs to be doing more than resting. If this team has any thoughts of being compared to the historic “Worst to First” story then it all starts Friday against the Diamondbacks.