Consider this a polite reminder to ATLiens and casual Braves Country citizens alike: If their weekend series have been less than appointment television up to this point, we feel you, but tonight's opener in Philadelphia is the first must-see series of Atlanta's year.
It's not just that the All-Star break is a weekend away, although that's usually a nice snooze button to start taking stock in any Braves team's chances; It's the two best teams in baseball (check the numbers, the winning streaks, or just simply elect to suck it forever, AL East, your choice), it's a team that's torn through lesser opponents in the last three weeks (sweeps of Toronto, Seattle and Colorado) in a manner suddenly reminding Braves fans and the league that any squad save for a few, are, in fact, lesser teams. These are the Atlanta Braves, you crappy Tuesday night interleague starter.
Clearly, none of Braves Country's patended folksy, laissez faire brand of pressure on new skipper Fredi Gonzalez has affected his first year, despite faceless pitching propping up terrible hitting and a rash of injuries (you're so unfamiliar with that scenario, we know...)
After an ugly start, all of a sudden:
- The bullpen is shaping up as one of the best in baseball (and compared to this evening's opposing dugout, just as versatile a TJ Maxx ensemble). That includes the best starter (you know it's true when the New York media deems a 12-3 record and a 1.87 ERA "luck") and reliever in the game.
- Dan Uggla! Hitting baseballs like it's his job! In the last week he's been brainwashed into thinking he wasn't just another free agent bat brought in to eventually wilt like so many before him. All power hitters in Atlanta are essentially perpetual concussion victims, so please keep him awake and engaged before he slips back into that coma.
- Freddie Freeman's ascension to near-Heyward levels of buzz. That's two red-hot young names in Braves uniforms: Your move, marketing departments!
- Graybeard Chipper Jones, extremities be damned, is slowly decaying into Zombie Chipper, yet is still posting quality OBP and hits like the youth he's no doubt secretly feeding on to maintain his career. LOOK OUT, HE BITES.
For all the national ridicule over blown playoff series, the modern era Atlanta Braves are virtually ignored by historians when measuring quality pennant races and their regular season theatrics. In the glut of July and August, where the horizon is vacant and lesser teams can't survive the journey, no team tracked their prey better than the Braves of the '90s.
We've got zip in the way of assurances to the casual Braves fan that this won't produce a divisional round fizzle like so many campaigns prior, but we all know that on any given July, the Braves usually beat the best teams in baseball. And given our wonderfully Southern malaise as baseball fans, surely you won't be too bothered to watch a marquee three game tilt in July, October be damned.