Dan Schlossberg's Weekend Notebook: the Best NL Race • Latino Sports


Dan Schlossberg’s Weekend Notebook: the Best NL Race


With the top three teams of the National League Central all likely to reach the postseason, the most interesting battle in the Senior Circuit pits the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Whomever finishes with the best record in the league gets home-field advantage throughout the playoffs — or at least until elimination.

Since the Braves have the best home record in the majors, they desperately need to finish strong. They still have the best winning percentage but are only a game-and-a-half up on the Dodgers at the start of this weekend.

Losing Jason Heyward (broken jaw) for the rest of the season and possibly starting pitcher Brandon Beachy (elbow) as well could derail the Atlanta express.

A black cloud has descended over Jason Heyward again.

A black cloud has descended over Jason Heyward again.

The Braves have been just another ballclub since their 14-game winning streak ended.

They’re a nose over .500 on the road but win more than 70 per cent of their games at Turner Field. Their home record of 44-18 yields a .710 wining percentage.

To compensate for the loss of Heyward’s power, Dan Uggla should deliver more frequently from the right side. Due back from LASIK surgery next Wednesday, Uggla says he’s seeing much better. If he gets hot, he can carry a team — as he proved with a 33-game hitting streak and career-best 36 home runs in 2011.

Uggla has topped the 30-homer plateau more often (five times) than any second baseman in baseball history.

The Braves would also get a lift if B.J. Upton, another righthanded slugger, shakes a season-long slump that has kept his batting average below the Mendoza Line. He’s even more of a streak hitter than Uggla, offering the promise of power plus speed if he stops trying to justify his five-year, $75 million contract.

Also due to show more pop is rookie Evan Gattis, a catcher-outfielder whose power suddenly evaporated after a three-week stint on the sidelines with an oblique strain. He’ll get plenty of playing time as he tries to find his early-season

Evan Gattis, NL rookie of the month in April and May, needs to recapture his stroke

Evan Gattis, NL rookie of the month in April and May, needs to recapture his stroke

form, which produced NL Rookie of the Month honors in both April and May.

Gattis still leads all NL rookies in home runs and runs batted in.

Writers contend the Dodgers will have an enormous playoffs advantage because of the left-right starting tandem of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. But the Braves, even without Tim Hudson and Beachy, counter with the young left-right combine of Mike Minor and Kris Medlen.

Since playoff games are often decided by bullpens, the edge definitely goes to the Braves. Craig Kimbrel, the first closer to top 40 saves in each of his first three seasons, has an earned run average of 1.05, just a hair over his 1.01 of 2012. His set-up crew includes lefties Luis Avilan and Scott Downs plus righty Jordan Walden — a foursome the Dodgers can’t match.

If the Braves lead after six innings, they usually win.

Other thoughts that boggle the mind this weekend:

Mets reliever Scott Rice spent 14 seasons in the minors before making the varsity this year and performing beyond anyone’s expectations . . .

Yadier Molina (Cardinals) is the odds-on favorite to become the second straight

Yadier Molina hopes for a batting crown and MVP trophy

Yadier Molina hopes for a batting crown and MVP trophy

catcher to win the NL batting crown. Buster Posey, who did it last year, also bagged the league’s MVP trophy, which could be heading Molina’s way . . .

The Boston Red Sox seemingly had no worries about winning the American League East until they started throwing at Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees don’t like their beleaguered star but they don’t like other teams targeting their players either. Ever since the Sox gave the Yankees motivation, the Bronx Bombers have lived up their nickname . . .

Mets general manager Sandy Anderson may have pulled off the trade of the year when he landed Eric Young Jr. from the Colorado Rockies for nondescript righthander Colin McHugh. Since that June 20 deal, Young has more stolen bases than anyone in the National League . . .

Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, now a broadcaster for the Minnesota Twins, loathes the lack of complete games in the majors. “Pitching is an 8-to-5 job,” he says. “I never thought of it as an 8-to-1 job.” . . .

Bert Blyleven (right), shown with fellow Hall of Fame inductee Roberto Alomar, says starters should go nine

Bert Blyleven (right), shown with fellow Hall of Fame inductee Roberto Alomar, says starters should go ninemplete games in the majors. “Pitching is an 8-to-5 job,” he says. “I wasn’t supposed to work from 8-to-1.” . . .

David DeJesus spent less time with the Washington Nationals than Thomas Eagleton did as George McGovern’s running mate. Lost with a Nationals team that needs little outfield help, DeJesus should prove a major help to the Tampa Bay Rays in their quest to be the beast of the East in the American League . . .

The Nats did Kurt Suzuki a favor when they sent him back to the Oakland A’s this week. Now he has a chance to keep playing in October . . .

Aside from the fact that Ralph Kiner can’t pronounce his name, can you tell me one good reason why the Mets signed Daisuke Matsuzaka?

Zack Wheeler has Atlanta's number. Image Credit: Bill Menzel

Zack Wheeler has Atlanta’s number.
Image Credit: Bill Menzel

Tom Hufford, one of five surviving founders of the Society for American Baseball Research, calculates that the Braves will have started their “dream” outfield of Heyward, Justin Upton, and B.J. Upton just 43 per cent of the time this season . . .

What does Zack Wheeler know that others don’t? The only NL pitcher to beat the Braves three times this year, he’s only 3-2 against the rest of the league.



About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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