So why don't I feel optimistic about them? Collectively, the Braves are five games over .500, but their run differential is almost even, so they have probably been a little lucky in the first half of the season. (If you normalize for Equivalent Runs, then the gap between their run differential and record narrows, but doesn't disappear entirely.
Individually, there are holes in places where it's bad to have holes. The rotation is a mess, with Smoltz showing signs of shoulder problems and his endurance waning by the end of June. Tim Hudson has pitched well, but he too has shown signs of slowing as the second half has progressed. The bottom of the rotation is a giant dilemma, as Kyle Davies has had a wretched first half interspersed with random quality starts against the better teams in the NL. With every contender in baseball looking for starting pitching and a limited number of useful starters on the market, the prospect of solving the dilemma through a trade seems bleak. That leaves the farm system, but the early returns on JoJo Reyes were not encouraging (although it was one start; maybe he'll be the reverse Kyle Davies and we'll be naming Centennial Park Jojo Place by this October). In the realm of things I never thought I'd be saying when the season kicked off, "thank G-d for Buddy Carlyle" ranks right up there with "Good for Barry!" and "I just don't hear enough about the Yankees."
The bullpen, which was supposed to be the reason why the team outperformed its run differential, has been Rafael Soriano and the seven dwarfs. Bob Wickman drives me crazy, Mike Gonzalez's elbow looks like Verdun circa 1917, and the rest of the pen is OK, but nothing special. (That probably sells Peter Moylan short, as he's been excellent and Oscar RoyalHouse has also been good in long relief.) The bullpen, unlike the starting rotation, is an area that can be addressed in the trading market as quality relievers can be had for less-than-premium prospects and they don't add too much to the payroll.
That said, if the team is to find its salvation, it's going to have to come from the lineup. Against all the pitching questions, the cause for optimism is that Andruw cannot possibly be as bad in the second half as he was in the first. (Mets fans are probably saying the same thing about Carlos Delgado.) If 'Druw comes around and Chipper avoids his typical "that's a new way for a player to miss three weeks" injury, then the lineup is imposing with Kelly Johnson (whose stance is a dead ringer for Chipper's) and Renteria setting up the Jones and then Francoeur, McCann, and Salty cleaning up behind them. The Braves survived Langerhans, Thorman, and Craig Wilson plumbing new depths at two premium offensive positions, so with solutions in right field and first base, the offense ought to pick up the slack for the pitchers.
In the end, the team's fate will probably be decided by the health of Smoltz's shoulder and Hudson's oblique at the top of the rotation, and Buddy Carlyle's deal with the devil not expiring and the farm system producing a competent starter at the bottom. (If our Reyes won the East instead of their Reyes, would Mike Lupica's head explode?) The second half schedule is very manageable coming out of the gate, with the murderer's row of interleague opponents in the rear view mirror and a diet of NL Central fodder coming up, but this team has strangely played better against the cream of the NL (17-9 against the Mets, Brewers, Padres, and Dodgers) than against the rest of the Senior Circuit.