In four games since the All-Star Break, the Braves have scored 51 runs, all against teams currently in first place in their divisions. Three of the games were played at Petco Park, which is murder on offense. Everyone is hitting. The attention has gone to Chipper for his record-tying streak of extra-base hits and he deserves the accolades, but a number of other players deserve credit as well. Adam LaRoche has a 1.096 OPS this month, which has raised his OPS for the season to a quite respectable .860. For those of you with a more traditional inclination towards statistics, .270 with 16 homers and 51 RBI is not a bad total for a first baseman a little more than halfway into the season. Wilson Betemit has a 1.082 OPS this month, raising OPS for the season to .878. I have been of this opinion for a while, but the last several weeks have provided further evidence that the Braves should not trade Betemit. In fact, I would rather miss the wild card this year if the tradeoff is the Braves having to trade Wilson for a bullpen rental. With Chipper's brittle feet and Marcus Giles' injury history, not to mention the fact that Giles is a free agent at the end of the year, Wilson is too valuable. The team has already found 171 at-bats for him over the course of the year, so he's not an underused resource getting stale on the bench. Brian McCann has a .998 OPS this month, which isn't that shocking since he's been the Braves' best offensive player this year, but his contributions shouldn't be ignored. And quietly, Andruw is plugging along with an .872 OPS this month, which doesn't stand out on a team full of hot hitters, but his contributions shouldn't be overlooked. He's on pace for 34 homers and 141 RBI, which would look great on a Hall of Fame resume in 15 years.
Overall, as much as I'm enjoying watching the Braves turn into the '27 Yankees for a two-week stretch, this success is obviously unsustainable. The offense isn't this good, just as it wasn't as bad as it showed during the most wretched June (or any month, for that matter) in franchise history. When the offense cools slightly, the pitching is going to have to pick up the slack. Smoltz is pulling on all cylinders and Chuck James has been a revelation, but where is the rest of the pitching going to come from? Tim Hudson absolutely needs to right the ship; that goes without saying. Unfortunately, I just don't see Horacio maintaining his current form. He's pitched well since coming off the DL, but I just don't see him continuing with his current 24/19 K/BB ratio. He is keeping the ball in the park this year - only four homers allowed in 55.1 innings - but I still don't see him as anything more than a #4 starter down the stretch. The question will be whether Hudson becomes a #2 or if he keeping pitching like a AA #4.
The other question is obviously the bullpen. Assistance in that department shouldn't be too expensive in terms of prospects. The issue is whether the demand for pitching around baseball is going to drive the price up to where it chases the Braves out of the market. The market for starting pitching is fairly barren, as evidenced by the fact that the Yankees think that Sidney Ponson can be helpful in some way, so is that going to force teams to look to improve their bullpens instead? And are those teams going to be willing to offer quality prospects for bullpen help, such that the Braves would be mortgaging their future to compete in the market. As I've said before, this team is too flawed to merit giving up on significant prospects for bullpen help.
The final point to make about the Braves right now is that the past weeks have shown that the National League is very, very weak this year, so the Braves can certainly make a run at the playoffs (and then anything can happen in a playoff series). The Braves have been beating around the other two divisional leaders and the rest of their wild card rivals have been treading water, at best. This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the Braves can make the playoffs and then potentially make some noise once they're there. (Maybe coming in as the wild card would take the pressure off the team and make them play better in October? Oh, how I would love a post-season run from the most flawed Braves team in years just to prove how random the playoffs are, but I'm getting way, way ahead of myself.) On the other hand, what sort of accomplishment is it to make the playoffs in a year in which the NL is so down?