Say hello to 1st place Braves

The Atlanta Braves are again alone in first place, holding a half-game lead over Washington. They were two games back six days ago, but they won two of three in Houston and four of four in Philadelphia. Such are the undulations of a six-month season.

The Braves have benefited, if slightly, from having B.J. Upton bat leadoff. He’s not exactly knocking the cover off the ball — he’s 6-for-22 since moving to the No. 1 spot, which has enabled him to lift his average from .202 to .205 — but he has managed a hit in all six games and has scored four runs and driven in three. The Braves have mustered an average of 4.2 runs over those six games, which trumps their season average of 3.6.

Even as we credit the Braves for winning six of seven, we must note that the competition has lessened. The Astros hold last place in the American League West. The Phillies just reclaimed the bottom spot in the National League East. The week ahead will see the Braves play the Mets, who just climbed out of last place, and the Diamondbacks, who are tied with Tampa Bay for the worst record in baseball.

Then the Braves travel to New York for four more against the Mets before heading to Chicago for a three-game set against the last-place Cubs, meaning that the final three weeks before the All-Star break won’t include a single game against a team with a winning record. This is the sort of scheduling break that a struggling team — from April 27 through June 23, the Braves played nine games below .500 — has to seize. So far they have.

Not that beating bad teams is always a given. The Nationals just split four games with the Cubs, and the low point of the Braves’ season came when they were swept at home by Philly 12 days ago. They just swept the same Phillies in Philly, beating Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez, two pitchers they hadn’t been able to handle at Turner Field.

That doesn’t make a lot of sense, but having B.J. Upton bat leadoff doesn’t make much sense, either. But, as they say around the ol’ batting cage, that’s baseball.

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