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Tipsheet: Battered Braves can battle on in wide-open NL East

Tipsheet: Battered Braves can battle on in wide-open NL East

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The Cardinals and Atlanta Braves can commiserate, to a degree.

The Braves reached postseason play the previous three years while the Cardinals made the last two brackets. Both teams entered the season expected to contend for a playoff berth.

Both teams have been rocked by injuries. Among the many Braves casualties are outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. (torn ACL) and pitcher Mike Soroka (twice torn Achilles tendon).

Both the Cardinals have Braves have been scuffling along around the .500 mark. The Braves have not won back-to-back games since their three-game winning streak July 7-10.

After the All-Star break Braves went 8-9 against the contending Tampa Bay Rays, San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets and Milwaukee Brewers.

“This was a gauntlet we went through, mentally, physically and the competition,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We’re going to end the day where we started, which is good because that thing could have gone sideways with the teams we were playing.”

But while the Cardinals have fallen 10 games back of the streaking Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central, the Braves are just 3½ games back of the New York Mets in the NL East.

So while the Cardinals just try to get through this season in one piece, the Braves remain in the chase.

That's why they aggressively added talent before the trade deadline. They added a whole new outfield with Adam Duvall, Jorge Soler and Eddie Rosario, plus they landed reliever Richard Rodriguez.

“The one fortunate thing for all of us in the NL East, is that we’re playing in the NL East in 2021,” Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said, referring to mediocre records in the division. “That allows us all to stay in it and be competitive. You know, the thing is, you get into the postseason, we’ve seen great teams lose early. I remember the Mariners team that won 116 games (in 2001) that got eliminated. The Cardinals won 83 games (in 2006) and won the World Series …

“I think you have to worry about being able to get in (the playoffs) first. And we’ve seen wild-card teams get to the World Series. You just don’t know once you get in. You need to get in. There’s no doubt we’ve had our challenges, but everyone in the NL East has had their challenges. Our focus is just to keep grinding, keep trying to make the club better.”

And the Cardinals are just trying to get to 2022.

TALKIN' BASEBALL

Here is what folks are writing about Our National Pastime:

Jeff Passan, ESPN.com: “Look at the list of teams that added during deadline week: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati, Houston, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee, both New York teams, Oakland, Philadelphia, San Diego, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Toronto. That's 16 teams -- more than half of baseball -- and while some of the additions were halfhearted, most of those teams willingly included prospects in deals. And not just high-upside fliers, either. Teams' inclination to give up what seemed above market price started with Tampa Bay's acquisition of Nelson Cruz and continued through the Dodgers' deal for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, Toronto's for Jose Berrios, the White Sox's for Craig Kimbrel and the Mets' for Javier Baez. Prospects -- real prospects -- exchanged hands, and they did so because the market dictated as much. The market dictated as much because teams look at the landscape of the game right now, of the weaknesses of even the best team, and see opportunity. Winning a championship won't be easy -- it's never easy -- but those walking that path may have a less-arduous road to it. Perhaps this sentiment stems from the best record belonging to the not-as-good-on-paper-as-they-are-in-real-life San Francisco Giants. Or maybe it's a recognition that the wild cards of this season -- the coming injuries to overtaxed pitchers, the prospect that potential COVID-19 shutdowns around the country somehow force baseball to consider another postseason bubble -- throw into flux any semblance of normalcy and place a premium on having the most talented team, which the Dodgers did last year going into the playoffs.”

Alyson Footer, MLB.com: “In the National League, the surging Reds have some work to do if they’re to catch either the Dodgers or Padres, but a four-game deficit in the Wild Card standings is hardly insurmountable. There are plenty of us who have always assumed the two Wild Card teams will come out of the West, but there’s at least one Midwest team that might quibble with that theory.”

Ben Clemens, FanGraphs: “The Cubs have been in a weird spot all year. They traded Yu Darvish in the offseason, but otherwise behaved like they wanted to squeeze one last run out of their 2016 World Series core. A long losing streak put paid to that idea, however, and the Cubs pivoted expertly into selling everything that wasn’t nailed down. There’s nothing inherently noble about a teardown. This Cubs team won less than they surely hoped to, though the curse-breaking 2016 season makes up for plenty of woes. There’s no guarantee that the next great Cubs team will be made up of the spoils of this selloff, or even that the Cubs will be competitive again on the right timeframe for these moves to matter. This certainly wasn’t an outcome you’d root for as a Chicago fan if you paused time after the 2016 World Series. All that said, the Cubs were in a bad situation (albeit one at least partially of their own making), and they made the most of it. Wishing the team did more with its core is all well and good, but those years are sadly gone. In the here and now, a huge swath of the team was bound for free agency, ownership was reticent to spend, and Jed Hoyer turned those players — great players, all — into a tantalizing group of prospects and recent graduates to start over with.”

Michael Baumann, The Ringer: “Putting [Javier] Báez in a double-play combination with Francisco Lindor is going to result in exceptional defense and even better vibes. Báez isn’t the offensive contributor he used to be, but New York’s biggest win at the deadline was how the rest of the NL East behaved. Washington and Miami sold, Atlanta made only token upgrades to plug holes in the outfield, and Philadelphia ended up scrambling for leftovers in the hour before the deadline. It looked fairly unlikely a week ago that anyone would run the Mets down before the end of the season, and it looks much less likely now.”

Mike Axisa, CBSSports.com: “In the last few minutes leading up to the deadline, the Giants nabbed Kris Bryant from the Cubs, and all it cost them was two good but not great prospects. Evan Longoria is out with a shoulder injury and isn't expected back anytime soon, and San Francisco has had left field problems all season. Bryant can play both positions (as well as center field, right field, and first base) while giving the club another righty bat to balance a lineup that leans a little too lefty at times. The Giants come into Friday with baseball's best record at 64-38 -- they're three games up on the Dodgers -- and they owed it to their fans and themselves to improve the roster. At the same time, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi didn't want to blow up his long-term plan, and he was able to thread the needle with the Bryant trade. He added an impact player without touching the top of the farm system (and picked up a useful reliever in Tony Watson to boot). Solid work for Zaidi & Co.”

MEGAPHONE

“He is like a father figure. He watches out for his players and protects his players. That's why guys love playing for him. That's important in a locker room.”

Duvall, on playing for Snitker.

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Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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