While the Braves don't appear to have a chance to catch the Phillies, they are firmly entrenched in the drivers seat for the Wild Card, so a postseason berth in 2011 looks like a given. A few story lines to the Brave 2011 season.
- Dan Uggla was one of the worst hitters in baseball in the 1st half and one of the best in the 2nd half
- Heralded Jason Heyward was supposed to put his stamp on being on being one of the best young hitters in the game, instead he enters this series with more question marks then answers about his future.
- Rookie 1st baseman Freddie Freeman is fighting his teammate for ROY honors, and has been the best young hitter on the team, not Jason Heyward.
- Speaking of ROY honors Craig Kimbrel would seem to have this nailed down with his 41 saves and he might not even be the best pitcher in the bullpen, that honor might go to Jonny Venters, his outstanding setup man.
- The Braves have four full time pitchers in the rotation 25 years of younger and they are still loaded in AAA/AA with more pitching. I cannot recall any team having this much good young pitching in a long time.
1st Base - 21 year old Freddie Freeman is doing it all, mixing in decent plate discipline with some power. His .819 OPS may not overwhelm anyone but his offense is good for sixth place among full time NL 1st baseman.
2nd Base - Dan Uggla has been the best hitting NL 2nd baseman for the last two months with 18 home runs. A July wRC of 162 and August 191 punctuate this point. . His hitting streak was not some single a game but a plethora of extra base hits. From July 5th - Aug 13th Uggla belted out 20 XBH, including 15 long balls on his way to a triple stat line of .377 / .438 / .762 / 1.200 OPS. He increased his OPS from a dismal .568 to .763 which is hard to do when you already have 318 at bats under your belt. Must have been some sort of fireworks that he watched on July 4th, to set him off on July 5th. While he has slowed down once the streak was over, he did not go Andre on the league, he's still posting a plus .800 OPS since the streak.
SS - The Braves are not infallible, they did trade a good young SS with attitude problems for the worst full time hitting shortstop in the NL. Last year Gonzalez hit some home runs and this year has hit 12 but that does not make up for a .256 OB%.
3rd - Future HOF Chipper Larry Jones can still hit but he's in and out of the lineup so much it is hard to call him the full time 3rd baseman. If he does not play then Prado will take his spot.
C- Brian McCann is the best offensive catcher in the NL. You knew that.
RF - Jason Heyward has shown he can take a walk, he has shown nothing else in 2011. The future star is going to have to regroup next year and hope he shakes off his multitude of minor injuries to get reach the potential he showed in 2010.
CF - The Braves acquired Michael Bourn at the trading deadline from the Astro's and he's done what he does. Steal some bases, play great CF, not hit too much.
LF - When Chipper can play 3rd base, Martin Prado handles LF, when Prado has to play 3rd, then 27 year old rookie Jose Constanza plays LF. Prado does not hit much for a LF or 3rd baseman, at least not this year. Constanza has a .822 OPS in the major leagues which blatantly contradicts his career minor league OPS of .720.
Starting Pitching - We will see the kids this series with 24 year old Brandon Beachy, 23 year old Mike Minor, and the old veteran 25 year old Jair Jurrjens. Jurrjens has had a rough August giving up over five runs in three of his four August starts. If you want to look at peripherals the kids are doing extremely well, Jair, not so much.
Bullpen is outstanding with Kimbrel closing out any lead that Jonny Venters gives to him. Right handers Christian Martinez and Eric O'Flaherty get the ball to Venters. They even added 20 year old Arodys Vizcaino to make things even harder. I'm sure we will see George Sherrill pitch to Andre and Loney at some point. Andre and Loney are going to have a very hard time getting a hit against Sherrill and Venters in the 7th or 8th innings.
This is a good team, a team that is going to get better, a team that you will not come back from if the bullpen is given a lead. The offense could use some work and if Uggla hits the skids again they will have trouble scoring runs. I could see the Dodgers winning two of three if they can score early and ride the pitching of Kershaw to one victory on Sunday, and battle to a victory on either Friday / Saturday.
I guarantee one thing, they will not be swept by the Braves.