After a terrible stretch run in 2011, the Atlanta Braves are hoping to correct their mistakes from last year and secure a playoff spot this September.
Last year, most, if not all, of the Braves' players went into a deep slump that allowed the St. Louis Cardinals to catch them on the final day of the season.
Their most reliable players, the bullpen trio of Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters, and Craig Kimbrel, all faltered down the stretch due to fatigue.
Not only will the bullpen have to stay strong, but the Braves' leaders must pave the way to the playoffs in 2012.
As a lifelong Braves fan, I was heartbroken last year and am looking at a handful of players to really come through this last month of the season.
Here are the top five most valuable players for the Braves down the stretch.
5. Craig Kimbrel
Braves closer Craig Kimbrel needs to be the anchor of a very good bullpen for the Braves down the stretch.
Last season as a rookie, Kimbrel faltered down the stretch, blowing several save opportunities in September, which could be attributed to fatigue as he threw 77 innings in 79 games in 2011.
Kimbrel's innings have been limited more in 2012, so he should be much fresher this September than last year at this time.
After a dismal sophomore campaign, Jason Heyward has bounced back in a big way in 2012.
Heyward has 25 homers and 19 steals and counting in 2012, which is a far cry from his stats in 2011.
Heyward shows no sign of slowing down, which is a great thing for the middle of the Atlanta lineup.
In his final season, Chipper Jones has had several memorable moments, including making the All-Star Game and a walk-off home run against the Phillies.
Jones is batting .297 and is the unquestioned leader of the Braves' clubhouse. The Braves need him to stay healthy down the stretch and be the leader for Atlanta one last time.
2. Kris Medlen
The hottest starter in baseball may be Kris Medlen.
The Braves have won Medlen's past 18 starts, and since joining the rotation Medlen has posted a 0.54 ERA.
Atlanta will be looking at Medlen to continue his superb play heading into the postseason.
1. Tim Hudson
Tim Hudson is the most valuable Brave for the stretch run.
The veteran right hander has had a good season after missing the first month of the year recovering from back surgery. Hudson has gone 14-5 with a 3.59 ERA since returning to the rotation.
Most importantly, should the Braves clinch a wild card spot, Hudson would be the likely pitcher to take the mound for the one game playoff.
Hudson needs to continue to pitch well to take the Braves to the playoffs and potentially the World Series.
Joey Hnath is a resident of metro Atlanta and a diehard Atlanta Braves fan. He has been covering MLB since 2011.
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- Craig Kimbrel
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