Scary thought: Braves could get even better
Riding a 13-game winning streak, Atlanta still has room for improvement
Now the Atlanta Braves aren't just good. They're scary good. They're good enough to do things we'll be talking about for a while.
The Braves have already been pretty good. OK, that's silly. They've been ridiculously good. They've won 13 in a row and are just the fifth National League team in 50 years to have two double-digit winning streaks in the same season.
Atlanta began this season of optimism by winning 12 of 13, including 10 in a row at one point. Right there in those first days of the season, the Braves pretty much ended the NL East race. We didn't know it at the time because we thought the Nationals were sure to make a push, and maybe even the Phillies.
Neither of those clubs has been very good, but that's beside the point. Atlanta has been better than any of us thought it'd be, and we thought the Braves would be pretty good.
Here's the part that ought to really catch your attention. The Braves probably aren't nearly as good as they can be. Rather, they've used this latest winning streak to show how good they might end up being.
If B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward stay hot, if their season-long slumps are over, then Atlanta is going to be about as unbeatable as a baseball team can be. That's the thing about both those hitters. When they have a hot streak, it's the kind that can carry an entire team.
When the Rays looked back on Upton's career with them, the one thing that stood out is that he was in the middle of almost all the great things they did.
Upton went through long, numbing slumps, the kind that look like he might never get another hit. But when Upton was good, he was a guy from another universe. He hit good pitches. He hit bad pitches. He hit them hard, too, scalded them from foul pole to foul pole. When Upton was in one of those streaks, the Rays simply would sit back and enjoy the show.
That's what Upton is doing now. In five games back from the disabled list, he is hitting .476. Upton has two doubles, two stolen bases and is finally starting to look like the disruptive force the Braves hoped he'd be.
However, Upton may not be going back to his old spot at the top of the lineup for awhile. Twelve games ago, manager Fredi Gonzalez moved Heyward there. He did it to give his lineup a different look and maybe to get Heyward going.
In 12 games since, Heyward has a .415 on-base percentage and seems completely at home. He'd hit leadoff just one other game in his career, but it's going to be his new home, at least for awhile.
Heyward is like Upton in a lot of ways. He rolls up some impressive strikeout totals at times, and he has gone almost entire seasons looking lost at home plate. But when Heyward is locked in, he hits the ball harder and farther than almost any player you've ever seen. Right now, he's locked in.
Atlanta has gotten to this point without huge contributions from Heyward and Upton, and so now the fun may really be starting. The Braves are a tribute to the word of general manager Frank Wren, who redesigned his team last winter around a dynamic outfield -- Justin Upton, B.J. Upton and Heyward.
In the post-Chipper era, they were going to be the faces of the franchise. Justin Upton got off to a great start, hitting 12 home runs in April, but the other two finished the month with batting averages below .150.
Still, the Braves rolled. They got offensive contributions up and down the lineup. Rookie Evan Gattis, first baseman Freddie Freeman and third baseman Chris Johnson, who is currently leading the NL in batting with a .339 average, helped carry them early in the season. Their bullpen is the best on the planet. The rotation is solid.
On Wednesday, Atlanta finished a six-game trip to Philadelphia and Washington that might have been the "Last Chance Saloon" for both those clubs. The Braves barely broke a sweat, winning all six.
They've outscored the opposition 77-31 during the 13-game winning streak. Their staff ERA is 2.23, with the bullpen allowing two earned runs in 41 innings. Freeman is hitting .340 during the win streak.
Even with ace Tim Hudson out for the season with a broken ankle, Atlanta has kept going. Rookie right-hander Julio Teheran has allowed fewer than two runs in 11 of his 22 starts. Meanwhile, right-hander Kris Medlen struggled so badly for awhile that the Braves toyed with the idea of removing him from the rotation. On Wednesday against the Nationals, he allowed three runs in seven innings, his best start in a month.
The Braves were off Thursday before beginning a nine-game homestand against the Marlins, Phillies and Nationals. With 13 wins in a row and a 15 1/2-game lead over Washington, Atlanta's magic number is already down to 33. Yep, the Braves are scary good.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.