• Exclusives

    Two men hold the Braves’ World Series hopes in their hands

    By Kent Covington

    Braves starting pitcher, Jair Jurrjens

    As owners of baseball’s fourth-best record (tied with Milwaukee) and a 6-game lead in the NL Wild Card race, the Braves must be considered legitimate World Series contenders.  The resurgence of cleanup hitter, Dan Uggla, and a massive infusion of speed in the persons of outfielders, Michael Bourn and Jose Constanza, have strengthened the Braves’ hopes of returning the “Fall Classic” to Atlanta. Having filled those offensive potholes, I believe the Braves’ World Series hopes now rest chiefly in the hands of two Atlanta hurlers.

    Through the figurative “first half” of the ’11 season, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson boasted a combined record of 22-7, with a microscopic 2.15 ERA.  In recent weeks, however, both appeared noticeably off their game right before both of the Braves right-handers landed on the 15-day disabled list.

    Jurrjens, who missed multiple starts with soreness in his surgically repaired right knee, made his return from the DL Wednesday night against the Giants. It was a forgettable start to be sure. “JJ” surrendered 8 hits, 2 walks and 5 earned runs in 6 innings of work. With this being his first start since being activated from the disabled list, it can easily be written off as a product of rust. Let’s hope that’s all it is.

    Hanson remains out of service with inflammation in his right shoulder.

    The health and performance of these two young aces could be the difference between a deep October run or an early playoff exit. In fact, without a healthy Jurrjens or Hanson, the Braves have no assurances of playing beyond September.

    Braves starting pitcher, Tommy Hanson

    A healthy trio of Jurrjens, Hanson and Tim Hudson is capable of locking horns with any rotation in baseball. And given a World Series path that may studded with the likes of Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Zack Greinke, Ian Kennedy, Tim Lincecum or Ryan Vogelsong, to name a few… the Braves positively must have their “big 3” at their best, come October.

    The Braves desperately need to see the return—or something close to it—of the Jair Jurrjens who outperformed every other starting pitching in baseball through the season’s first half (12-3, 1.87 ERA prior to the all-star break). Atlanta might just be able to edge out their Wild Card competitors for a postseason berth, even without a sharp Jurrjens or a peak Tommy Hanson.  However, barring a miraculous return to late ’10 form by  fellow starter, Derek Lowe, they won’t accomplish their end goal of another World Series championship without those two at their best.

    Keep a close eye on Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson for through the remainder of the season. They hold the key to a legitimate Atlanta Braves World Series run.

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