COMMENTARY | The Atlanta Braves still hold the best record in all of baseball, but as the dog-days of summer begin to yield to the first signs of autumn, the rosters of many other postseason-bound teams have started to improve.
The Braves have held strong with their own team, despite dealing with countless injuries to key players, while the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals have all bettered themselves through the waiver wire.
Has Atlanta taken a step back by allowing the teams around them to get better, or are the Braves still the most complete club heading towards October?
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have pulled themselves off the MLB scrapheap to become the biggest threat to the Braves' bid for the best record in the National League. Since June 30, Los Angeles has a record of 42-12 and has moved from dead last in the NL West to a comfortable 10 1/2-game lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks for first place.
But the Dodgers have not been satisfied to just rest on their success. The deep pockets of the team with a $216 million payroll used the waiver wire to add veteran infielder Michael Young from the Philadelphia Phillies.
The acquisition of Young will help L.A. with depth, as well as potentially solidify third base or second base, which have been the weakest positions on the Dodgers' roster all season. To make matters worse for the Braves, this deal precedes the impending return of All-Star center fielder Matt Kemp from the disabled list. Atlanta pitchers will certainly have their hands full with the new-and-improved Dodgers lineup.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals have not yet even set their sight on the front running Braves; they first simply have to ensure they avoid the dreaded one-game wild-card playoff by beating the Pirates and Cincinnati Reds in a very tough NL Central division.
St. Louis added former Milwaukee Brewers closer John Axford to their No. 8 ranked NL bullpen (3.49 ERA). The unit comes into September having blown 16 save opportunities while allowing opponents a .247 batting average.
Given the fact that the St. Louis starters have accumulated the most wins of any starting staff in the National League (63), the game plan for opposing clubs has been to get to the Cardinals' bullpen as quick as possible. Axford brings over a 4.45 ERA with 19 holds, but he is only one year removed from a 35-save campaign with Milwaukee.
In Byrd's first game with the Pirates, all the 11-year veteran outfielder did was hit a three-run home run while being slotted in the No. 4 spot in the Pittsburgh order.
Byrd's .286 average with 22 home runs and 76 RBIs easily makes him the biggest bat any National League playoff hopeful added this season.
Luckily for the Braves, they have already seen Byrd in 16 games this season as a member of the division-rival Mets. Byrd has hit .281 in 64 plate appearances against the Braves in 2013, however, Atlanta pitching has struck him out 21 times -- the most of any team Byrd has faced this season.
The problem that seemed to dissuade Atlanta from making many waiver wire moves are the big contracts blocking positions that could use an upgrade. At $13.2 million for the 2013 season, .184-hitting Dan Uggla does not make it easy for the Braves to go out and add a high-priced veteran infielder, such as Dodgers did with Young.
The same too can be said for the bloated $13 million contract B.J. Upton gets this season that leaves his .193 average as the only financially viable option at the moment. However, the additions of Jason Heyward from injury, and Evan Gattis from the minors, could help manager Fredi Gonzalez push Upton into a less important role come playoff time.
Atlanta did go out and add Freddy Garcia to a minor league deal -- he has since been called to the majors -- and the Braves brought in Kansas City Royals' second baseman Elliot Johnson, but his .189 average is not exactly an upgrade.
Seemingly, the rest of the team looks to be set for the postseason. The pitching rotation has had some setbacks, but Atlanta's young depth makes it easy to stand pat. Thanks to the impressive rookie seasons of Julio Teheran (3.01 ERA) and Alex Wood (2.27 ERA), the Braves did not need to overspend for a veteran after Tim Hudson was lost for the year. Brandon Beachy is on the DL with elbow inflammation, but he too could find his way back in time to give the Braves even more pitching depth in October.
The only spot Atlanta failed to solidify was adding another left-handed bat off the bench. As the roster is currently constructed, the Braves would only be able to turn to Jordan Schafer or Jose Constanza if they need a lefty-stick late in games.
The other playoff teams may have won the headline battle with their moves, but the fact that the Braves were already a complete enough team to leave the roster as is bodes well for their World Series chances. It will all come down to health, and if Atlanta's players can find their way clear of the infirmary ward the rest of the way, their roster will be as good as any team.
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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