It's just a couple of days after the Fourth of July, and that means the baseball season has reached the halfway point. I don't know about you, but I think the Atlanta Braves are in good position as the midsummer classic approaches.
Granted, Atlanta is still trailing division-leading Washington, and the "Nats" do not appear to be fading anytime soon. However, if you really look closely at the Braves' season to this point, you have to marvel that the team is not dead last in the NL East.
Atlanta's best player, Chipper Jones, has missed nearly half of the team's games in 2005. Johnny Estrada and Marcus Giles have missed time because of injuries. And one of the opening-day starters, Raul Mondesi, is no longer with the team.
Sadly, the offensive side of the equation looks rosy compared with the woes facing Leo Mazzone's pitching staff. Currently, three of the five starters are on the DL. On the shelf are former Cy Young Award winners Tim Hudson and Mike Hampton, and steady right-hander John Thomson.
Gone with them are the 39 wins and 553 innings they contributed in 2004 - not to mention the fact that the group had an average ERA of 3.01 this season.
Instead of guys such as Gary Sheffield and J.D. Drew roaming the outfield, names such as Kelly Johnson and Ryan Langerhans are on the starting roster.
However, it has been guys such as Johnson and Langerhans who have taken turns driving in big runs this season.
Also, former prized prospect Wilson Betemit has learned to hit, and he has teamed with scrappy Pete Orr to fill the void left by the departure of Mark DeRosa and Nick Green.
OK, I know what you're thinking: What about the bullpen?
No question, the bullpen has been brutal, but to me that makes what the team is doing all the more impressive.
Thanks to veterans John Smoltz and Andruw Jones, the Braves are still one of the teams to beat in the NL.
So before you spend your midsummer break with your relatives blasting those "darn Braves," keep in mind most teams would have cracked under the strain of this injury-riddled first half.
Instead, the Braves continue to get timely hitting from their youngsters and tremendous effort from the majority of their healthy pitchers.
Don't be surprised if the Braves get healthy and make yet another playoff run.
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