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Braves keeping heat on Phillies

With the Major League baseball All-Star game taking place last night in Arizona, it is a good time to look at the Atlanta Braves and consider how they might do during the second half of the season.

Like many Bainbridge and Decatur County residents, I am a die-hard Atlanta Braves fan, However, I am also realistic and I think it will be very difficult for the Braves to catch the first-place National League Eastern Division leading Philadelphia Phillies.

Right now the second-place Braves have a substantial lead in the National League wild card race and should make it to the playoffs through that route if they are not able to overtake the Phillies, who they are only three and a half games behind in the National League Eastern Division.

The two hottest hitters in the Braves lineup right now are National league All-Star team starting catcher Brian McCann and rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman.

McCann has been steady throughout the season and is hitting well above .300.

During a four-game home sweep of the Colorado Rockies last week at Turner Field, Freeman hit four home runs.

The reason it will be so hard to catch the Phillies is that their starting pitching staff  is the best in baseball in my judgment.

Right-hander Roy Halliday is arguably the best pitcher in baseball and left-hander Cliff Lee, who is also in the Phillies rotation, was a major reason the Texas Rangers won the American League championship last season.

The third man in the strong Phillies pitching rotation is left-hander Cole Hamels, who would probably be the No. 1 starter in many rotations.

The Braves starters, led by right-hander Jair Jurrjens with a league-high 12 wins and only three losses, are right up there with the Phillies as far as talent is concerned.

In the Braves rotation behind Jurjens are right-handers Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, Brandon Beachy and veteran Derek Lowe.

The Braves rotation has a good mix of veterans with strong track records, like Hudson and Lowe, and hard throwing youngsters like Hanson and Beachy.

If the Braves have an advantage on the Phillies anywhere, it is in the bullpen. Phillies closer Brad Lidge has been on the disabled list much of the season.

The Braves feature All-Star left-hander Johnny Venters, pitching the eighth inning, and right-hander Craig Kimbrel, closing it out in the ninth inning.

In Thursday’s  6-3 Braves win over the Colorado Rockies, Kimbrel recorded his 27th save, the most of any reliever before the All-Star break. He increased it to 28 with a save in Saturday’s 4-1 11th-inning victory over the Phillies.

While I think the Phillies, because of their strong starting pitching, will probably win the National League Eastern Division championship, I don’t think they will win it by much.