COMMENTARY | The Atlanta Braves might be riding high with the best record in baseball, but worrisome fans are always just one bad loss away from screaming about how the sky is falling.
As the Braves try to steady their sights on wrapping up home-field advantage for the National League portion of the playoffs, there are five lingering doubts Atlanta fans may have about their club heading into the postseason.
Lack of Veteran Pitchers
The Braves have received masterful rookie seasons from Julio Teheran and Alex Wood, but injuries to Tim Hudson and Brandon Beachy have now made the youngsters two of the presumptive three starting playoff pitchers.
With an average age of 22 years old -- and exactly as many postseason starts as I have -- there is no guarantee the two will be able to live up to the same level of play when the bright lights of October start shining down on them. In fact, if we include Mike Minor as the other starter, the Braves could conceivably roll out a postseason rotation without a single playoff appearance among them.
The up-and-down nature of a young starter is enough to have fans worried. Case in point, after allowing just three total runs in his five starts in August, Wood wasn't even able to get out of inning No. 3 against the Miami Marlins on Sept. 1, after he was shelled for seven earned runs.
While most brush it off as just an aberration, this type of rookie moment could derail an entire series if it were to happen in the playoffs.
If it feels like the Braves have not been getting the respect they deserve on a national scale, the poor play of Uggla and Upton could be the culprit. How confident are people supposed to be with a team that has two key starters unable to hit above .200?
To make matters worse, manager Fredi Gonzalez insists on batting the disastrous duo one right after the other. A one-out and bases-loaded situation could easily turn into two consecutive strikeouts and a zero on the scoreboard if their black hole in the order were to come up in that spot. How soon before teams start pitching around the heart of the order because they know there is an easy set of outs to follow?
To be fair, Upton has hit .270 since coming back from injury on Aug. 4, however, the 30 strikeouts in only 74 at-bats does not exactly signal a new-and-improved B.J. Upton. I have long since stopped trying to figure out the Braves' center fielder. This is the same man who hit nine home runs during the entire 2008 season, but went on to hit seven round-trippers in the playoffs alone that same year. The potential for greatness is there; fans just hope he is able to find that switch again come playoff time.
Ducks on the Pond, Just Give Me a Single
"Contact in contact situations" may be the mantra that defines Atlanta's 2013 season.
Although the Braves have gotten better as the year has gone on, the club still ranks No. 1 in strikeouts in the NL. Believe it or not, Atlanta has already set a new franchise record for strikeouts in a season, and there is still one month of games left to be played.
Over the last 11 seasons, no team in the National League has even been able to scratch out a playoff berth while leading the league in strikeouts, let alone contend for a World Series crown.
Aside from Atlanta being whiff-central, fans also have to be biting their nails with respect to the Braves' ability to hit with runners in scoring position. Without Freddie Freeman (.439) or Chris Johnson (.333), the rest of the roster is hitting just .222 when the opportunity to drive in a run presents itself. The capacity of B.J. Upton (.123) and Uggla (.146) to put the bat on the ball when a run is at stake could be the difference between a title and an early postseason exit.
Road-Weary and Dreaming About Some Home Cooking
Home-field advantage is no guarantee. The Braves are holding court in the National League, but the Los Angeles Dodgers are nipping at their heels. Atlanta has been dominant this season, but taking a closer look at the home vs. away splits appear to tell a different story .
The Braves carry the best home record of any club in baseball (51-19), but their road tally has only been hovering around .500 all year (34-34). The Braves have hit .243 on the road this season, which ranks them No. 11 out of the 15 National League teams. Atlanta has only lost 12 games since the All-Star break, but eight of those losses have come away from Turner Field.
Haven't Exactly Been Playing the '26 New York Yankees
Let's face it: The National League East division has been downright terrible this season.
The Washington Nationals were supposed to win the division on the strength of their 98-win season in 2012, but they have regressed considerably to the point that they will have to struggle just to finish above .500. The Philadelphia Phillies are an aging team of high-priced veterans who now hang their exorbitant contracts like an albatross around the neck of the organization. And the New York Mets and Miami Marlins, well, they are the Mets and the Marlins.
Aside from the weak divisional competition Atlanta has faced throughout the season, the Braves will enter the postseason having played nine of their last 10 series against teams with losing records -- which could be a perfect 10-for-10 if the 'Nats were to drop a couple more games.
The lackluster competition down the stretch will allow Atlanta to causally moonwalk its way into the postseason, but could the continued absence of facing playoff-caliber teams make the Braves under-prepared for the level of play they will see in October?
The Braves are 17-11 this season against the four other likely playoffs teams (Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, and Cincinnati Reds), but it will have been a while since they played anyone remotely resembling a contender.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter who has been following the Atlanta Braves for over 20 years. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
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