Braves Country: State of the Union

With the Braves 11-2 loss against Cincinnati on Saturday, it’s time for the first ever Braves Country State of the Union Address.

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Saturday’s loss brings the Atlanta Braves to 59-42 on the season. They trail the division leading Philadelphia Phillies by five games in the NL East, but have a 4.5 game lead in the Wild Card race.

Looking outside the numbers, the Braves couldn’t ask to be in a much better position.

Quite simply, the Braves’ roster is healthy. Other than Chipper Jones, who is on track to start rehab games as early as July 25th, no key players are out with serious injuries. Right fielder Jason Heyward suffered one of the most notable Braves injuries this year when he went on the disabled list with inflammation and soreness in his right shoulder, but has since returned and is now finding his rhythm. Center fielder Jordan Schafer has a jammed finger, but played an inning last night as a defensive replacement. Dan Uggla was expected to miss Friday’s game against the Reds with a strained calf, but recorded a pinch-hit home run in the ninth inning. He recorded another hit in Saturday’s loss to continue his hit streak to 14 games.

The pitching staff is cranking on all cylinders. Jair Jurrjens has been dominant in 2011 so far going 12-3 with a 2.44 ERA. While his fastball only tops out at around 90 MPH, Jurrjens has become the ace of the Braves’ staff with his great control, changeup, and quality breaking balls. Tommy Hanson has also been dominant so far in 2011 going 11-5 with a 3.06 ERA and 124 strikeouts. Rookie closer Craig Kimbrel has been electric leading the majors in saves (31) and posting an out of this world 14.22 K’s/9 innings. While Kimbrel has grabbed much of the attention surrounding Atlanta’s bullpen, sophomore reliever Jonny Venters has been just as outstanding in the setup role going 5-1 with a 1.34 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and is averaging over a strikeout per inning pitched. Jurrjens, Kimbrel, and Venters all pitched in the All Star Game although Tommy Hanson also deserved to join them.

[caption id="attachment_190" align="aligncenter" width="468" caption="Braves Rookie Closer Craig Kimbrel (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)"][/caption]

For as good as the pitching has been, the hitting has kept pace. Brian McCann has been putting up great numbers (.307, 17 HR, 54 RBI) en route to his sixth All Star selection. Chipper Jones was also voted an All Star hitting .259 with 8 home runs and 46 RBI’s before tearing his right meniscus.

While the 2011 Braves are more than good enough to contend for a World Series title, they are set for the long run as well. Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman are both 21. Craig Kimbrel is 23. Tommy Hanson is 24. Jair Jurrjens is 25. Jonny Venters is 26. Brian McCann is 27. The Braves have arguably the best collection of young talent in all of baseball. If they can retain them long-term (which I’m sure they can), they are all but sure to become one of the best dynasties in baseball.

As we look ahead to the second half of the season, the Braves are set for a deep playoff run. While it would be nice to overtake the Phillies and win the NL East, the Braves will make the postseason and will eventually have to go through Philadelphia in the NLCS.

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