Atlanta Braves: Keep calm and tomahawk on


Atlanta Braves Chris Johnson fields a grounder.
Chris Johnson is the latest Brave to catch the injury bug. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

If the Atlanta Braves, as a club, was a junkie for the drug “injury” (street name DL, DTD or Dr. Freeze), today would be the day it hit rock bottom. Today would be the day that we, as caring and concerned fans, would organize an intervention. We’d say things like, “You’re too good to throw this season away,” and “I care about you too much to see you like this.” Time for some tough love.

With the news that third baseman Chris Johnson has a case of turf toe and is considered day-to-day, it seems like it simply cannot get any worse than this.

My list from my last article of who the Braves have had to play at least two weeks without wasn’t even complete, but there’s no reason to finish it here. I could draw names out of a hat and have a better than 50-50 shot of picking someone who’s been on the DL this season. Suddenly, the now 12-game lead the Braves have in the NL east doesn’t seem like enough. The Nats have strung five wins together and are chopping away at their deficit. The magic number still rests at 22, and the Braves still own the best record in baseball, but that isn’t as comforting as it used to be.

Now that we’re good friends and all, we can be honest with each other. During the 14-game winning streak the Braves were on, I had a moment when I thought the final stretch might be too easy. I almost felt like they were peaking too early. Playing out the rest of the season against sub .500 teams and going into the playoffs to face the winner of the coin-flip game could come as a harsh reality slap. I wanted them sharp! I wanted them hungry! But I didn’t want this.

Having a bit of adversity is one thing, but losing half the team, including the players who were fanning the flames of a hot offense wasn’t what I had in mind.

But the baseball gods are a fickle and heartless bunch who clearly thought the Braves needed some real calamity to overcome. The only positive that can come of this is if the Braves can figure out how to get past these injuries, and can keep up their winning ways, they’ll be a formidable team heading into the playoffs. At which point they should get Jason Heyward back, and possibly Brandon Beachy, as well; although no one should be counting on that.

Now, if the Braves have established any kind of pattern this season, it’s that one or two players provide the spark for the team when they really need it. Justin Upton was a bruiser in April. Freddie Freeman carried the weight through May and part of June. Brian McCann found his stride in May and June as well. Chris Johnson turned up the heat in July, and Jason Heyward came to life at the end of July and early August. Now it’s up to the guys who are left to step up and carry this team through the end of the season.

But it’s going to be B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla who could really be the keys to this offense going forward. It was relatively easy for both of those guys to take a back seat while everyone else was stepping up. Their offensive woes were noticeable but hidden behind the fireworks display the rest of the team was putting on. Certainly it was frustrating for them, but they weren’t dragging the team down with them.

It’s a different story now, and both players don’t have the luxury of being picked up by their teammates. Uggla now has 20/15 vision and has been seeing the ball much better in batting practice. B.J. has seen some success at the plate since coming off the DL, but hasn’t strung more than two or three games together of hitting well. The Braves are experiencing one of those stretches that brings out the character of a team. For Braves fans, this could be Uggla’s last chance to show the kind of player he really is. For B.J., it could define the rest of his tenure here.

I know it looks grim, Choppers. But the Braves just have to keep calm and tomahawk on.

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