As we come to the end of one of the very most enjoyable all-star breaks I have witnessed, the second half of the season looms ahead. The Atlanta Braves are in the best position in baseball right now, with the largest division lead (4 games) in the majors. Everybody who just read that knock on wood because this is not the kind of season we want to jinx. The Braves have been playing excellent baseball recently, getting good production out of a very scrappy offense, getting great, deep starts from the pitching staff, and getting performances by the bullpen that are as good as any I've seen recently, but there is still no room for complacency. There are about two months left of baseball, and that's an awful lot of games, and, as always, September has a heavy schedule of divisional games.
Of course, IF the Braves win the division this year, it wouldn't be nearly so exciting if they didn't have to earn it, and from the way the Mets have been playing and my instinct that the Phillies are going to find their bats awfully soon, they certainly WILL have to earn it. But unlike the past few years at this point, we aren't hoping for the Braves to hit a huge winning streak or for the Phillies to hit a slump to make up ground; the division lead means that if they just keep winning, the Braves will stay in first place, and that is a much, much better position to be in.
But my confidence in this team has more to it than that. All of you remember the way we've suffered the past few years; injuries, leaving a LOT of men on base, the terrible bullpen of a couple years back (Dan Kolb, anyone?) This team just looks different. Now, this is not to say they couldn't go cold (keep knocking on wood, just to be safe) but they aren't doing the things that made them lose so many games they could've won this year, and that makes me like their chances an awful lot better. And, sad as I am to see Yunel go, at the very least we almost certainly will never have to see Jo-Jo Reyes start for the Braves again. Our (de facto) number 5 starter this year is Derek Lowe, and that's WAY better than anyone else's #5, plus he almost always gets good run support for some reason (possibility: the Braves' offense is good).
And still, there's one more thing about this team that has changed that I never would have guessed: Bobby Cox. I'll never say a word against him because I don't think I have any right to, but he's become a lot more aggressive, and I LIKE it. Calling suicide squeezes, sending runners, playing small ball, making some very well-timed pitching changes; he's been looking like a mastermind out there. The only thing I'd like to be any different is, perhaps, if he were building his lead in the all-time ejections list a little more. But I guess he's just been less frustrated, since, you know, the team's been doing a lot of winning and stuff, and I'm sure as hell not gonna complain about that (still knocking on wood?)
In any case, I can say without doubt that I am eagerly anticipating getting to watch the second half of this season, and I hope to go to as many games as I can. Go Braves!