Braves poised for interesting second half

sports@macon.comJuly 16, 2013 

You guessed it. This is going to be one of those obligatory “at the break” columns that analyzes what the hometown team has to do in the second part of the baseball season to make the playoffs.

The Braves are sitting pretty right now, don’t you think? They’re in first place by six games. That’s comfortable, particularly considering only one other team in the NL East is over .500, and the Washington Nationals are just a game over that mark.

The past two years have taught all of us a lot. First, the Braves had that big lead in the wildcard two years ago and had the biggest collapse in NL history. Then last year, after easily winning the wild card’s top spot, Atlanta lost in the epic fail at home to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Cue the “outfield” fly rule memories.

So you can’t take anything for granted, despite the nice lead. Remember when the Los Angeles Dodgers led the Braves at the break by 9½ games in 1991, or how about the San Francisco Giants leading the NL West over Atlanta by nine games two years later? How did those races turn out?

Things can change in a heartbeat in baseball. We found that out last weekend when the entire Braves outfield disappeared with injuries. If you had said in spring training the Braves would be finishing the first part of the season before the break with an outfield of Jose Constanza, Reed Johnson and Joey Terdoslavich, you might have thought the Braves were in big trouble.

Now it’s easy to be a comedian and believe that the team will be better without B.J. Upton, who is the only one of the three ailing outfielders who had to go on the disabled list. But remember, Upton hit 21 of his 28 home runs last year after the All-Star break, so the Braves were hoping for a similar outcome this season.

Instead, Upton is on the shelf for two weeks. The Braves cannot afford for Freddie Freeman to join him, and we won’t find out until Thursday how serious his thumb injury is. They could have Evan Gattis at first base, but Freeman has arguably been the team’s MVP in the first half of the season. He’s not someone you want out of the lineup very long.

This team seems poised to make some sort of major trade in the next few weeks. The rotation is already stacked, and Brandon Beachy might be one more rehab start away from being ready to come back. Plus, there are rumors the Braves are stretching Alex Wood back out so he can return to Atlanta in a few weeks as a starter.

That would mean two current starters would have to go. Paul Maholm is a logical choice, since he’s a free agent at the end of the season and has struggled lately (2-4 with a 5.20 ERA in his past six starts). But would the Braves really consider moving Kris Medlen back to the bullpen?

OK, so Medlen’s struggled in his past two starts (10 earned runs in 9-1/3 innings), but he had nine quality starts in his previous 11 games prior to this slight downturn. Yes, he has experience in the bullpen, but that’s no reason to send him back there when Medlen is having a decent season.

But one of the starters could be used to go find an Omar Infante-type player who could serve as a valuable reserve and an offensive force. Losing Ramiro Pena for the season was tough, and now the Braves have to wait another month on Jordan Schafer to get healthy.

The bullpen continues to be the strength, as the relievers lead the majors in ERA. But don’t be shocked if the Braves add another veteran arm to provide depth.

Atlanta’s schedule is kind in the next 10 weeks, as the Braves have a lot of games against sub-.500 teams and at Turner Field. This team is in the driver’s seat, and unlike the past two seasons needs nothing to get in its way. Overcoming this latest rash of injuries could possibly be the biggest test of the season.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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