Suddenly, life has become hard for the Braves

It tells you how strange this season has been that the Atlanta Braves have at times looked like a team capable of winning the World Series. At other times, they’ve looked like a team that may not make the playoffs. One of the things we love about baseball is the ebb and flow of a long season, and the Braves have had plenty of the good and the bad.

GM Frank Wren has done a terrific job in adding Ben Sheets, Paul Maholm and Paul Janish. He stuck with Mike Minor when a lot of Braves fans were ready to pull the plug. Meanwhile, manager Fredi Gonzalez has worked hard to monitor the workload of his relievers.

That said, the Braves have hit a tough patch, losing six of seven thanks primarily to an offense that has produced 2.4 runs per game and is hitting .197. The Braves have dropped from four to 6 1/2 games behind the Nationals, but still lead the race for the two National League Wild Card berths.

Now it’s a matter of playing through the current problems, and there are several significant ones:

  • Brian McCann is trying to play through an aching shoulder. His average is down to .230, and he’s hitting .161 with no home runs in his last 56 at-bats.
  • Dan Uggla is hitting .153 since June 22.
  • Ben Sheets is winless in his last three starts with a 7.71 ERA.
  • Tommy Hanson has one quality start in his last six with a 6.82 ERA.

Every team goes through stretches like this. The Braves still have enough to get by. Wren has managed to construct a good rotation despite getting just eight victories from Brandon Beachy and Jair Jurrjens. Gonzalez doesn’t have many options other than to keep playing Uggla and to monitor McCann’s health.

Besides that, who is going to catch the game. The Pirates and Diamondbacks have their own problems to deal with. The Dodgers are on the verge of a huge trade, but can they make a serious run without a healthy Chad Billingsley? There’ll be questions about a repeat of last season when the Braves lost 17 of their last 25 and were eliminated on the final day of the season. They appear to be a better team now, with fewer problems in the rotation and a more rested bullpen.

They’ve got a lot of non-contending teams left on their schedule, but those teams sometimes are the toughest. They’re playing without pennant race pressure and occasionally injected talented young kids into the mix. In other words, nothing is guaranteed.

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