The Atlanta Braves are leading the NL East with a 74-52 record, a solid six games ahead of the Washington Nationals. They’ve also made a recent addition to the team – in the form of Billy Hamilton – to make up for some injuries, with hopes of making some headway in the postseason. The Braves began this week with the second-best record in the National League, and they just got two games on the elite Los Angeles Dodgers (the team with the best record in the NL). Here’s where they’re at right now and some challenges the Braves face as they look toward the playoffs.
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After being swept by the Dodgers back in May, the Braves delivered statement wins in LA on Saturday and Sunday. This was big for the team that the Dodgers eliminated from the NLDS in four games just last year. Winning in Los Angeles proved something to fans too, as LA is the most likely future route to the World Series later this year. Many think this could be a preview of the postseason picture.
These games also showed critics that the Braves bullpen is back in a big way. On Sunday, Anthony Swarzak, Chris Martin, Shane Greene, and Mark Melancon pitched four scoreless innings, allowing only one hit. On Saturday, Sean Newcomb, Melancon, and Greene pitched just over three scoreless innings. Greene had a great weekend with several strikeouts and fly ball outs as he tries to prove he deserves the role of closer.
Meanwhile, let’s not forget that Josh Donaldson and Adam Duvall got back-to-back home runs on the Dodger’s Hyun-Jin Ryu, a Cy Young candidate and one of the best pitchers in the league.
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Challenges Facing the Braves
Nearly the entire Braves outfield is on the injured list. The Braves are still missing Ender Inciarte (hamstring), Austin Riley (knee), and Nick Markakis (wrist). Of those, Riley is the only one sure to return soon. In order to bolster their roster, they’ve claimed Billy Hamilton off waivers from the Kansas City Royals. He’s a great center fielder so they’re hoping he’ll add to their defense, but speed is his biggest strength. While Hamilton isn’t a fabulous hitter, once he gets on base, he’s a real threat. Hamilton won’t likely get many at bats, but he’ll be a pinch runner in the postseason and helpful replacement in the outfield – even if everybody gets healthy.
There’s also been a little drama in Atlanta. Coaches pulled Ronald Acuna after he failed to run out what should’ve been an easy double when the Braves were down 0-3, watching it stop just short of a home run before taking off. He only made it to first base and then screwed up even further by getting caught stealing. Braves manager Brian Snitker justified his decision to take the star player out, saying, “He didn’t run. You’ve got to run. That’s not going to be acceptable here. The name on the front is a lot more important than the name on the back… You can’t let your teammates down.” Acuna sat on the bench the rest of the game as the Braves defeated the Dodgers 5-3. The 2018 NL Rookie of the Year says he’s learned his lesson.
And then there’s the ever-looming Dodgers. They’ve become a staple in the playoffs and they’re hungry for a World Series win after back-to-back losses. With an elite pitching staff, they are the most obvious threat to the Braves’ postseason hopes. Folks are arguing that Atlanta, who didn’t stand a chance against the Dodgers last October, have more veteran players and firepower in their lineup than before. Their statement win over LA just proves it.
The Braves will finish up their series at home against the Miami Marlins tonight and tomorrow before taking on the New York Mets in a three-game series over the weekend. Then it’s the Colorado Rockies and the Toronto Blue Jays. Grab your tickets now!
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