To help preview our upcoming series against the Braves, I sat down with Scott Coleman from one of the top Braves blogs on the net, Talking Chop, to discuss the Braves season so far. We also answered some questions for them, which we will post when they become available.
TNB: What has been the secret to the Braves success this year? Going into the season many considered the Braves a great empire on their way out, but at 57-41 the club is riding high.
Talking Chop: To be honest, they do a little bit of everything. The offense doesn't hit for much power, but they lead baseball in team OBP and walks. Guys like Eric Hinske, Omar Infante and Brooks Conrad have been huge for us at the plate and no one expect that. Martin Prado, who's been just incredible at the plate, and Jason Heyward form the best 1-2 combo in baseball and we've gotten solid production from Chipper, McCann and Glaus in the middle of our lineup.
Our pitching has also been very good. Our bullpen, up until the last week, has been lights out. Billy Wagner has been great in his final season and guys like Peter Moylan, Takashi Saito, Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty have all been huge for us. Our rotation has been pretty consistent all season, and it got a big boost once Jair Jurrjens returned from the DL a few weeks ago. Guys like Kris Medlen and Jonny Venters are having incredible years and they've played huge roles for us so far.
TNB: How big of an impact has Chipper Jones had on the team this year, despite his diminished skills?
Talking Chop: This is Chipper's team, and he's the un-questioned leader in the clubhouse. He was pretty bad in April and May, but once retirement talk came up in June, he's really stepped it up. He still controls the strikezone better than most in baseball and continues to have a great OBP. My wish is to hit him 2nd and Heyward 3rd, but hey, I'm not Bobby Cox and don't have the 4th most wins in baseball history.
TNB: How good can Jason Heyward get?
Talking Chop: I'm not sure, to be perfectly honest. As you may know, he tried playing through a severe bone and ligament bruise in his thumb in June and his stats really took a tumble. Before the injury, he was on pace for a line of: .280/.375/.475 with 30HRs, 100RBI and 15 stolen bases, along with his great defense. And as you know, he's doing this at the age of 20. The injury and time on the DL obviously hindered these numbers, but he returned healthy and is hitting .436 with an OPS of 1.009 in his first two weeks back. When I see these numbers and realize he's at least 5 years away from his prime, I'm really not to sure what he could become. Best player in baseball one day? Maybe. It's certainly not out of the question.
TNB: Does this team have what it takes to fight off the Phillies down the stretch? Is this team a serious World Series Contender?
Talking Chop: I think they'll be able to fight off the Phillies, but it certainly won't be easy. I'd LOVE for us to acquire a CF bat to replace the awful Nate McLouth, but there aren't too many options on the market right now. Hopefully Frank Wren can pull something off before Saturday.
As for the 2nd part, I think we have just as good of a shot as anybody. We can do the little things right and I'd feel safe with our pitching in the post-season. I worry about our lineup and their ability to score runs on a consistent basis, but it hasn't bothered the Braves since mid-May. Our defense is also very solid, and we've all seen how big of a role that plays in October.
TNB: Who would you consider to be the unsung hero's of this years squad?
Talking Chop: I kind of mentioned these guys earlier, but I can think of three: Kris Medlen, Eric Hinske and Omar Infante. In his 2nd season, Medlen began as a reliever and then forced his way into the rotation once Jurrjens got hurt. The Braves are 6-0 in his starts and he's now permanently in the rotation. Eric Hinske is in a platoon in LF and he's been great for us. He was inserted into the lineup against every right-handed pitcher in mid-May and the Braves have the best record in baseball since then. Omar Infante is the best utility man in baseball, and he literally does everything for this team. Martin Prado is the un-questioned MVP for this team, but to be perfectly honest, Omar Infante might be the runner-up.