Winning streak gives Braves confidence

sports@macon.comAugust 10, 2013 

It’s amazing how quickly things can change in baseball. Two weeks ago, we wondered when the Atlanta Braves would flip the switch and get going, when they’d have everything fall into place and be the team they were supposed to be as a first-place club with a big lead in the division.

Well, it happened. The winning streak that ended at 14 games Saturday took care of most of the questions we had two weeks ago. We know now the Braves can be a team that can win a World Series -- if they’re playing like they’ve played during the streak.

Remember, before the winning streak, Atlanta had gone 45-44 since its 12-1 start. The bad teams in the NL East made it still be a comfortable situation. The Braves had just been mediocre for a while as the rest of the teams struggled to even get above the .500 mark.

It’s almost too simplistic to say Justin Upton’s success is the reason, but the parallels to what he has done so far in August to what he did in April when the team started hot are scary. Upton hit eight home runs and drove in 12 runs in Atlanta’s first 13 games, while he has hit in 13 straight games entering Saturday’s game against the Miami Marlins with six homers and 14 RBI during the winning streak.

So as long as Upton is hot, so are the Braves. Just have him on track for October, and they’ll be good to go, right?

Well, the Braves probably will have to do more than that. They’ll have to continue to get good starting pitching. During the streak, Atlanta’s starters have a 2.76 ERA and 11 quality starts and have walked only 18 batters in 14 games. Take away Brandon Beachy’s first start back from Tommy John surgery, when he gave up seven runs against Colorado, and the starters’ ERA is 2.12 during the streak.

So much for worrying about the rotation after the injury to No. 1 starter Tim Hudson.

And the bullpen? What can you say? It seems like those pitchers never give up a run. If a team doesn’t score in the first six innings against the Braves, it is probably not going to score. Six of the current seven relievers in the Atlanta bullpen have an ERA of 2.31 or lower.

Perhaps the best part of the streak is that it has given the Braves a confidence they desperately needed. The first 13 games of the season showed us they could be good, but then those middle 89 games gave us all reason to wonder exactly how long they would survive in October. But now, with the winning streak, the Braves have to once again believe they are pretty good.

Then you look at Tuesday’s almost altercation with Washington Bryce Harper. Julio Teheran hit Harper an at-bat after Harper had taken Teheran deep and took a bit too long to leave the batter’s box and to get around the bases. When Harper started mouthing off, catcher Brian McCann, who just might have called for the purpose pitch, went right after Harper and had to be restrained by umpire Joe West. Freddie Freeman got between McCann and Teheran, just to make sure Teheran was still protected, and then Dan Uggla went right toward Harper to make sure he didn’t do anything stupid.

Oh, and Evan Gattis ran in from left field, just in case he was needed in the steel-cage match.

The Braves stood their ground and protected their pitcher against the team that is probably the biggest division rival right now. It showed a little character, it showed a little spunk, and we needed to see that, too.

Yes, the streak ended Saturday. But we’ll look back on this great baseball as a turning point, when a team showed it was as good as it record expected it to be.

Funny how two weeks can prove something that important to a fan base.

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 e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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