The Atlanta Braves have opened up an eight game lead in the National League East race, but the season is far from over. So who are the three players that are key the rest of the season and into the playoffs?
Even before Tim Hudson‘s injury, I considered Brandon Beachy to be a key this season. Beachy was one of the top pitchers in the National League last season and if he can regain that form, he would be huge for this Braves team, particularly in the playoffs. If he doesn’t, I’m not sure the Braves have enough pitching to do significant damage in the playoffs.
Beachy has a cocky edge to him, an athletic arrogance that infuses his teammates with confidence. He has the make-up to pitch his best in the biggest games and the Braves young pitching staff would be bolstered tremendously if he can regain his top form.
Dan Uggla has the capability to carry the Atlanta Braves for weeks at a time. He also has the ability to keep Braves fans up at night, tossing and turning in their beds. When Uggla is hot, he can hit shots that rip chairs out of the bleachers and break the hands of fans who foolishly try to snag one of his homers bare-handed.
If Uggla gets hot for a two-week stretch between now and the rest of the season, game over. That eight game Atlanta Braves lead could balloon to a baker’s dozen, seemingly over night. The Phillies could then start dismantling their team and the Nationals could start the finger-pointing and head scratching and Monday morning quarterbacking as they try to figure out what went wrong.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, we saw what Justin Upton can do when he’s on a roll. He almost single-handedly fueled that incredibly 12-1 start to the season, when he won the NL Player of the Month in April. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been the same player since for, reasons that no one can seem to figure out.
Upton is fulfilling his dream of playing with his brother, his dad and friends make the short drive from South Carolina to attend many of the games, and he is healthy. Everything seems to be copacetic in Justin Upton‘s baseball life, yet the April power surge has inexplicably fizzled.