• Exclusives

    The Braves’ 5 critical keys

    by Kent Covington

    So… how ‘bout that road trip?!

    As I watched the Cardinals take a 5-0 lead in route to sticking the Braves with their second sweep in a week’s time, I fully expected to hear Jigsaw’s voice in my living room (for those of you who didn’t get that reference, please Google the terms “Saw”and “torture”).  Fortunately, I didn’t have to saw off my foot to reach the remote.  It might have been a difficult choice, had I been faced with it.

    Braves' highest paid player, Derek Lowe, is just 9-14 with a 4.70 ERA

    The bad news:
    Atlanta’s once mighty Wild Card lead has been cut in half to 4.5 games entering play against the Marlins at Turner Field Monday night.  First-half ace, Jair Jurrjens, may very well be out for the remainder of the season.  Tommy Hanson is still on the shelf.  Martin Prado and Jason Heyward continue to look like poor imitations of themselves.  Johnny Venters may finally be showing the wear and tear of two years of inexorable overuse.  Derek Lowe, after providing Braves fans with a brief swell of optimism, has reminded us that he cannot be wagered upon. And the veteran leader of the staff, Tim Hudson, who had been brilliant nearly all year, has looked lately as though he’s drinking from the same water fountain (or keg spout) as Lowe.

    The good news: The Braves still have a 4.5 game lead in the Wild Card race, which at this point in the season is substantial.  They have only 3 games remaining against a winning team (3-game set at home against the Phillies to close the season).  They also have a few weeks to get their **** together before they begin postseason play, assuming they’re able to find a foothold on the side of this cliff they’ve been sliding down recently.

    While it is not the all-but-over race it appeared to be a week ago, I still believe the Braves will repeat as NL Wild winners.  However, if the Braves once again limp into the playoffs, playing their worst baseball since April… will it matter?  I doubt a repeat of last year’s postseason script will do much for Braves fans.

    With that in mind, what are the keys if the Braves are to not only lock down a postseason berth, but compete for something that matters when they get there?

    What to watch…  the Braves 5 critical keys (in no particular order):

    •  Tommy Hanson:  A healthy Tommy Hanson is a MUST for the postseason.  It’s important that he’s not only healthy by the end of September, but also that he’s able to make multiple starts in preparation for the NLDS.
    • Tim Hudson:  The Braves desperately need him to find the handle and regain his command.  He must be the anchor for this injury plagued pitching staff.
    • Derek Lowe:  Lowe reminded us last September/October that he is capable of earning at least some of that ridiculous paycheck of his.  And that ability could not have entirely vanished in a year’s time.  He’s capable, but woefully unreliable. The Braves will just have to hope and pray for the best when he takes the hill.
    • Johnny Venters:  Worn out?  Venters clearly has not been the light’s out super-setup man lately that he was most of the season.  The back-end of the Braves’ bullpen has been a mainstay all year long. Needless to say, Venters is a huge part of that.
    • Martin Prado:  The production that made him what many believed to be the team’s MVP in ’10 has been sorely missed this season. There is still time for Prado to iron out the wrinkles.