As I write this column, it appears the Braves' end-of-the year hot streak will come up just short.
Just when it seemed Atlanta's postseason chances were as far-fetched as Michael Vick signing an endorsement deal with PetSmart, Atlanta got hot and closed the gap in the National League wild-card race.
The Braves won eight consecutive games and 15 of 17 contests to put themselves two games back of the Rockies with six games remaining. Unfortunately, the Braves dropped back-to-back one-run games to the Marlins while Colorado won a pair versus Milwaukee, and the Braves fell four games back.
Obviously, most of us would like to see the hometown team make another trip to the postseason, but despite the apparent near-miss there is plenty to like about this team.
The Braves were horrible in 2008. This year, they are dramatically improved and will finish the season well above .500. Also, they have some players that make their future prospects look good.
Tommy Hanson might be the best pitching prospect in the NL. The talented left-hander went 11-4 since being called up from the minors.
As good as Hanson has been, not one, but arguably two other pitchers have been even better.
Javier Vazquez has been tremendous. He is 15-10 with 238 strikeouts and only 44 walks in 219 innings. Jair Jurrjens has also been lights out for most of 2009. He is 15-10 with a team-best 2.87 ERA. As a matter of fact Hanson, Vazquez and Jurrjens all boast sub-3.00 ERAs.
On offense, the Braves showed some real signs of life late in the year. Martin Prado, Nate McLouth, Yunel Escobar and Brian McCann form a good nucleus, while vets Chipper Jones and Garret Anderson can still play a little. Matt Diaz, despite his base-running blunder Wednesday night, gives 100 percent every second he is on the field and he can hit big-league pitching.
Throw in that they have the 2009 Minor League Player of the Year in outfielder Jason Heyward, who reminds many of a more athletic Willie McCovey, and needless to say things are not all bad in "The ATL."
Next year will be Bobby Cox's last as the club's manager. Who knows? Maybe this team will send Bobby Cox out with a NL pennant.
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