Atlanta Braves Transform into True Contenders

When the Braves traded Yunel Escobar to the Toronto Blue Jays, what they received in return was one of the more consistent shortstops in baseball, Alex Gonzalez. Gonzalez anchored the 2003 Marlins infield that won the World Series with him serving as the starting shortstop. The veteran received a standing ovation by the Braves when he entered the locker room before his first game as a Brave.

Yunel Escobar just didn't seem to fit the Braves core values of ‘team first' mentality and chemistry among the players in the locker room is more important than one would think. With Alex Gonzalez in the locker room and leading by example on the field, the team is now acting and playing like a cohesive unit. This may be the only real trade that the Braves make during July before the trade deadline, as it seems like they have gotten an additional face lift from key parts of the puzzle that have come back from the DL.

Rookie phenom Jason Heyward has been out with a thumb injury for 3 weeks and stepped right back in into the lineup on July 15th without missing a beat. Having Heyward back into the line-up gives the Braves more than just another good bat, it gives them more energy and speed which they desperately need.

Chipper Jones has been dealing with several injuries this season but has seemed to have found a comfort zone eliminating the majority of the pain he has been experiencing.

Jair Jurrjens was placed on the DL at the beginning of May and didn't return till the last day of June 30 and is 3-0 in four starts since returning. Getting Jurrjens back in rotation has been just what the doctor ordered and has been every bit as effective as having acquiring a top of the rotation starter.

Johnny Venters who was brought up from Gwinnett in mid April was to fill the role of long mad has now turned into an integral part of the staff throwing 42 innings with a 1.13 ERA.

Matt Diaz is back off the DL after missing 42 games with a surgically repaired thumb and is off to a great start after the All-Star break.

Brian McCann is not 100% (what starting catcher is after more than 90 games) but he's playing like he is 100%.

Nate McLouth who was placed on the DL June 9th after a collision with Heyward in the outfield just returned on July 21st and may be the missing piece and the Braves need to solidify their outfield. With a healthy steady McClouth in center field the Braves may have the final piece to the chemistry puzzle. As the roster stands now, the Braves don't need to make any more acquisitions. The team is firing on all cylinders and there is no need to dismiss or trade one of the pieces of a puzzle that fits.

Bobby Cox has been making in games moves for nearly three decades now and it sometimes seems as if he can read the future. Saturday night sending Brooks Conrad to pinch hit with the bases loaded and having Conrad hit a Grand-Slam was uncanny. Cox's ability to seem to know who to put in and when is amazing and one of the reasons he's been one of the most respected managers in the game for so long.

The Atlanta Braves are currently 2 games behind the surprising Padres for the best record in the National League and lead the two time defending NL Champion Phillies by 4 ½ games. Most of the pundits expected the Braves to be pretenders by this point in the season, not contenders. Bobby Cox has them focused however and the Braves appear primed and determined to have Cox close out his career out on a winning note. - Bob Bearden

Bob Bearden - Bob is a regular guest contributor on sports talk radio in the Southeastern United States. Bob's views and opinions on professional and college sporting events can now be found right here on the MC3 Sports Media's family of websites.

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