Chipper Jones must stay healthy – He’s on pace to play in just under 100 games for the season, and that was what the Braves expected. But they may not be able to withstand an injury that would keep Jones out for a significant period of time. Jones is going to want to push for one more appearance in the playoffs, so he’s going to do everything he can to help this team win. But will his body hold up? He’s struggling to stay in the lineup, and while the Braves have been careful about his playing time, knowing the end is coming might entice him to play more than he’s capable of at this state of his career. The Braves know how important he is, so it could be a difficult balance to strike.
Brian McCann and Dan Uggla must get on track – The two players are hitting a combined .227, and that’s just not enough from two middle-of-the-order players. McCann has got to know he’s playing for his next contract, and if he finishes with bad numbers the Braves may consider dealing him this winter. So that is extra incentive, even though he would never admit it. McCann is capable of putting this offense on his shoulders, and the Braves need that to happen. Uggla has now just got to duplicate his second half from last year, when he got back on track and finished with respectable numbers.
The rotation must get help – Whether it’s Ben Sheets, who did well in his first minor league appearance on Wednesday, or through a trade, the Braves must have better starting pitching in the second half. It’s great that Jair Jurrjens has come back and done well in the last three starts, but the Braves need more from Mike Minor and Randall Delgado. One of those kids will be replaced when Sheets returns after the All-Star Break, but don’t expect the Braves to stop there. They will probably get either Zach Greinke (the priority), Francisco Liriano, Matt Garza or Ryan Dempster before the July 31 trade deadline. Don’t discount the possibility that Sheets could make a difference. The rotation will likely look very different a month from now.
The bullpen must do better – We all knew it was unlikely the bullpen would be as dominant as it was last year, but the struggles might force the Braves to get help here as well. Jonny Venters looks lost, so you wonder if they’ll look for another lefty reliever. Peter Moylan will help if he returns, and that is looking more likely to be in the next few weeks. But will they go after a Matt Belisle-type, who could be an effective 8th inning guy to help setup Craig Kimbrel? Don’t be surprised if they do. Kimbrel is the best closer in the NL, so you can’t have people behind him struggle. Venters must simply do better.
The bench needs new blood – The five main bench players for the Braves – David Ross, Eric Hinske, Jack Wilson, Juan Francisco and Matt Diaz – are hitting a combined .223. Atlanta has been so good over the years of bringing in bench help for the stretch drive, and that is desperately needed this season. They can live with Wilson and Ross, since both bring a lot to the table defensively. Francisco is expendable, as he’s proven he’s unlikely to be Chipper’s replacement. While Diaz and Hinske are great teammates, you might simply have to make a tough decision. They are not hitting, and since neither is good defensively, that puts them on the chopping block. Expect GM Frank Wren to look around for someone who is simply better.
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