They are playing like a championship team, stretching their winning streak to a dazzling 12 games by beating the Washington Nationals 2-1 last night.
Their streak started unexpectedly two days after Braves pitching ace Tim Hudson suffered a season-ending broken right ankle as he covered first base in a game with the New York Mets.
The disastrous loss of their ace must have turned into motivation for the Braves. They returned to Atlanta for a three-game stand against the St. Louis Cardinals and a four-game series with the Colorado Rockies. Suddenly, this team began to exude a new level of intensity and performance, sweeping the Cardinals, who at the time led the National League Central Division, and then taking all four games from the Rockies.
Pitcher Mike Minor, credited by the AP as pitching like a rising ace, allowed just one run by the Cardinals in the first game, which the Braves won 4-1. As to whether he felt he had to step up as the new ace pitcher, Minor downplayed his role, complimented Hudson as “our best guy,” and declared, “We just need everybody else to step it up a little bit.”
Did they ever. After mowing down the Cardinals and the Rockies, the Braves traveled to Philadelphia and took three games from the Phillies before facing the Nationals in another three-game series.
This team won despite injuries to key players and even the shortcomings of some of the players. And there have been some very pleasant surprises during the winning streak and the season thus far, starting with the new third baseman, Chris Johnson.
Who would have thought the Braves would wind up with an outstanding third baseman to succeed the legendary Chipper Jones? Not me. But how about Johnson? All he’s done is rack up a .342 batting average this season while driving in 42 runs and taking over the batting lead in the National League. Other key contributors this season include outfielder Jordan Schafer, now in injury rehab for a July 4 ankle fracture, boasting a .312 batting average; first baseman Freddie Freeman, batting .311 with a whopping 75 RBI to his credit with 13 homers; and catcher Brian McCann sporting a .281 average with 44 RBI and 16 homeruns. And the list goes on but space is running out.
The sweeps and the streaks have been manufactured despite the woeful lack of production by second baseman Dan Uggla (.192) and new center fielder B. J. Upton (.183). Striking out has plagued Uggla but he always hustles. Last Saturday in Philadelphia, the game was tied and Atlanta loaded the bases in the 12th inning with one out. Uggla hit a grounder that had “double play” written all over it, but he hustled to first and drove in the winning run.
There are lots of games left, and anything can happen before October. But it appears that the Braves have what it takes to go all the way.