Series Preview: Cleveland Indians @ Atlanta Braves

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If you’re someone who likes a challenge, then you’re going to love the next three days. If you’re someone who hates to relive traumatizing experiences that induce cold sweats and random bouts of nausea, you may want to avoid the next three games. I tend to fall into the later category. Allow me to explain.

You see, over the next three days the Indians will take on the Atlanta Braves. I hate the Atlanta Braves. Most of the hatred stems from the fact that they beat the Indians in the 1995 World Series and I still haven’t gotten over it. It was awful and went down as probably one of the 10 worst moments from my childhood. I’ve never gotten over it and probably never will. As a result, I look at the Braves with a general sense of disdain. No one associated with the team had anything to do with that fateful October, but I just can’t help it. I see that insignia across the chest and hear the tomahawk chop and I lose it.

There, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to business.

The Braves are good. Actually, the Braves are really, really good. Entering play tonight, they are the owners of the largest division lead in all of baseball. They are running away with the NL East and currently sit 13 games in front of the second place Washington Nationals. They can essentially coast their way to the finish line if they really wanted to. Their spot in the playoffs appears to be all but set.

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It’s no fluke either. The Braves have a 13 game division lead because they have built one of the most well-rounded teams in all of baseball. Offensively, they rank in the top 10 in runs scored, on base, and slugging percentages. Led by the likes of Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann and Chris Johnson, they have built an offensive juggernaut that can hang crooked numbers up on anyone.

Even with the loss of Jason Heyward for the remainder of the regular season with a broken jaw, the Braves appear to have enough fire power on offense to survive. Justin Upton has been outstanding for most of the season, leading the Braves in home runs and runs scored. His 64 RBI trail only Freddie Freeman, who has racked up 85 RBI while also posting a .313/.390/.480 slash line with 16 home runs of his own.

Perhaps the only thing that hasn’t gone right for the Braves offensively has been B.J. Upton. The elder Upton was signed to a massive free agent deal last winter and he has had a miserable go of it in 2013. His slash line of .182/.263/.291 is horrendous. He has even posted a negative number of wins above replacement at -1.6. It just goes to show you that if the Tampa Bay Rays are prepared to let a player walk away or offer him in a trade, walk away. Always walk away.

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As for the pitching, the Braves have assembled one of the finest staffs in the game. They are second in ERA, second in WHIP, fourth in batting average against, and second in quality starts. Their starting rotation, which consists of Kris Medlen, Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Paul Maholm, and Alex Wood has been impressive to say the least. Even the loss of their leader, Tim Hudson to a broken angle, wasn’t enough to knock them off track. They have simply continued to impress.

Then there is the bullpen. Already rock solid thanks to all-star closer Craig Kimbrel and his 41 saves, the Braves further solidified themselves by acquiring left hander Scott Downs from the Angels at the trade deadline. The result has been a bullpen that posts the best ERA in all of baseball at 2.42. Oh, and they have also posted the lowest batting average against in all of baseball at .217. Good luck scoring runs in late game situations. Barring a miracle, it’s not happening.

So, can the Indians beat the Braves, let alone give them a legitimate challenge? I have no idea. The Braves are unlike any team they have faced all season long with the exception of maybe the Tigers, and we saw how well they’ve handled that challenge. For them to have any kind of chance over the next three nights they will have to play probably three of their best games of the season. That, my friends, will be no easy feat.

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