If the season ended today, the national league playoff teams would be the Nationals, the Reds, the Giants, the Pirates, and the Braves, with the Braves and the Pirates as the two wild card teams matched up for the one-game playoff. What I find interesting about this is that each one of these teams missed the playoffs in 2011. There’s a lot of baseball left to play, but this goes to show just how much can change from one season to the next.
Remember about this time last season when Uggla was in the middle of his 33-game hitting streak, a continuous top story on ESPN, and we were all forgiving him for that lousy start? This year, he’s failed to turn around yet another lousy start, and he’s beginning to look like a black hole in the lineup. His average dropped to .221 with an 0-3 performance against the Giants on Tuesday night, but he blended in with the rest of the team, which combined for only five hits.
And I’ve noticed a big difference in Jason Heyward’s play this year, at the dish and in the field. He’s hitting with more consistency, making adjustments to avoid dry spells, and hustling on every play.
While Kimbrel has remained just as dominant as he was in 2011 (I’m pretty sure he’s a pitching robot, by the way), Venters has struggled mightily. I’m not convinced that the source of all his troubles is an elbow injury. Jonny’s seemed off his game for essentially the entire season. This time last season, I had total confidence in Venters, and this year he’s closer to a total mystery.
The trade deadline is approaching, and with every passing day it looks like the Braves are less likely to make any big move to bolster our bullpen or lineup. It’s not like there are not options in the market, especially for pitchers. The possibility of making a move for Greinke has been the most talked about, and perhaps it’s the most likely, but there are other pitchers out there that could be a good fit for the Braves. One in particular that catches my attention is Ryan Dempster. Yes, he’s on the older side at 35, but he’s having a career best season and leading the bigs in ERA. Yes, he only has a 5-3 record, but he depends on the Cubs offense for run support. And, most importantly, the Cubs are reportedly willing to absorb some of his remaining salary ($14-million).
Dempster isn’t a guaranteed ace, but we don’t need an ace, we need a pitcher to solidify the middle of the rotation. I hope the organization puts a lot of effort toward signing him, or toward signing another available pitcher. I’m just not incredibly confident about our chances to make the playoffs and a deep playoff run with JJ, Minor, and Ben Sheets. Sheets looked great in his first start, but that’s one start. He’s still somewhat of an unknown. And JJ looked good after being called back up, until Tuesday night’s sad outing.
At the end of July last season, we were poised to take the division and my mind was on just how many playoff games we could win. Well, we all know what happened last season (sorry to bring it up). Could it have been different if we dealt a pitcher (say, Derek Lowe, or JJ) in an attempt to improve our rotation? There were obviously a lot of factors that went in to the collapse, but weak pitching stands out to me. Come September of 2011, I felt like the braves were trying to hang on by their fingertips. I don’t want the second-half of the 2012 season to be like that. I want to see and aggressive, all-out charge towards the post-season. Now is not the time to be complacent.