Let’s face it.  As a nation, we’ve come to expect perfection out of everyone, and anyone who misses this mark is considered disappointing.  This is especially true in the world of sports.  As sports fans, many of us have become whiny, argumentative, and sniveling little crybabies when it comes to our favorite teams or players.  We look for things to complain about, things to criticize, and negatives on which to focus.  The first finger I’ll point is at the mirror.  I know that I am guilty of being this way when it comes to my favorite teams, but I’d like to think I’m turning a corner.  Our 2015 Bravos give me an opportunity to prove myself in this area.

Sadly, we live in a world today where senseless acts of violence are occurring regularly around the globe and sadly right in our own backyard, with hate leading to the deaths of 9 of our neighbors in South Carolina.  When I see tragedies like this occur, it makes me step back a little and realize that even if my team isn’t perfect and frustrates me at times, I really need to value what’s important in life, simply love my neighbors, and enjoy the fun things in my life rather than let “imperfections” with my teams get me down.

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For me and many others, sports are an escape from the things weighing us down in life.  Why am I going to allow a rough outing from my favorite pitcher or a couple of interceptions thrown by my favorite quarterback add to the already overwhelming burdens of life?  I’ve chosen to make a conscious effort to focus on the positives of my teams, and I’m going to start with our beloved 2015 Braves.

It’s been said many times that we Atlantans were spoiled by 14 consecutive division titles, because we really didn’t know how to react once the streak actually ended.  I called Atlanta home for a majority of those titles, and it did become something that we just came to expect.  I remember the uproar and sometimes outrage in that first season not winning the division title.  Since that streak ended, there has only been 1 division title, and the few other times making the playoffs did not end well.

I tend to be an optimistic person in general (or at least I try to be), and I don’t see any reason why this team shouldn’t at least be in the hunt for that division title once again this season.  First, let’s look at the division itself.

Many detractors would point out that the N.L. East is weak so far this season, so even if the Braves were able to take it, it wouldn’t mean as much.

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I’ll take it, no matter the path taken to get there.  The previously whiny sports fan in me might find a way to complain about this.  “Well, they were able to snag the division, but it’s only because the other teams underachieved and allowed them to take it.”  The new and improved fan in me would say, however, “Thank goodness that, while my Braves were struggling, so were the other teams.”  Sometimes you have to be on top of your game to win, while sometimes you need a little luck, lucky enough to be in a division where everyone is underachieving right along with you.

I won’t waste anyone’s time talking about the Phillies, but I’ll start with quite possibly the division’s biggest underachiever, the Miami Marlins.  Before the season, some experts had this group taking the division and possibly much more.  Their offense was supposed to be explosive, but they currently sit near the bottom of the league in runs scored.  If not for the celestial power numbers of 300-million-dollar man Giancarlo Stanton, who knows how much worse this offense would be?  As for the Mets, many were shocked to see the way this club stormed out of the gates.  They did this with great pitching, ranking top 10 in both ERA and WHIP.  Recently, however, they seem to have come back to earth.  They struggle mightily to score runs, and the pitching has not been as spectacular, with once dominant guys like Colon and Syndergaard seemingly losing a few steps in June.

The biggest obstacle in the way of a division title is the team many predicted to win the division, the Washington Nationals.  The Braves and Nats have battled tooth and nail for the division for years now, and this season will be no different.  While the Nats did an admirable job righting the ship after a rough start, they still have issues to worry about.    They rank top 10 in runs scored, HR, and OPS, yet they only lead this division by a couple games as we begin the week?  Bryce Harper has been lights out thus far, but can he realistically continue this pace?  Slugger Jayson Werth isn’t expected to return until August.  The one thing that might cause concern for the Braves is how the Nats’ pitching seems to be getting it together at the right time.  The Nationals certainly are the team in the division with the highest ceiling, but this doesn’t mean that the Braves can’t hang right there with them.

Next, of course, we should look at the Braves themselves.  Statistically, our Bravos sit right in the middle of the pack in runs scored and stolen bases and are ranked top 10 in batting average.  They rank dead last in HR and near the bottom in slugging percentage.  They also do not strike out that often.  A team that has lived and died by the long ball for quite some time is now playing a very exciting brand of baseball, if you ask me, and that’s what some call “small ball”.  The Tampa Bay Rays have been very successful for many years using this approach to the game.  After their manager of many years took off for Chicago, and the team basically held a fire sale, everyone expected them to go in the tank, but they currently lead the highly competitive A.L. East by continuing to “manufacture” runs (to go along with exceptional pitching).  That team reminds me a lot of what we have here in Atlanta right now.  We have a team of guys who step up and find ways to score and win, even though not much may be expected from this “superstar-free” collection of players.  We have guys who fight and never give up.  We have guys who play hard and cause me to get excited about each game they play.  I’m also excited seeing pitchers like Matt Wisler and Williams Perez round out the rotation, making the most of the limited opportunities they’ve been given thus far.  Alex Wood and Shelby Miller continue to give all they’ve got, the bullpen has stabilized at least a little bit, and I still feel like Julio Teheran is going to come around.  He’s too talented not to.  I continue to remain one of his biggest fans.

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So, what kind of Braves fan am I going to be the rest of the season?  I’m going to be the one celebrating the positives.  I’m going to be the one enjoying the heck out of some small ball.  I’m going to be the one not too worried about a stint on the DL for Freddie Freeman, because I know that other guys are ready to step in and pick up the slack.  The next few weeks will determine a lot about the direction in which this team is headed, with 6 games in the next 10 days against those pesky Washington Nationals.  After this and heading into the All-Star Break, the Braves will have 10 games against the National League’s 3 cellar-dwellers, the Phillies, Brewers, and Rockies.  The time is now for our Bravos to assert themselves and show that they belong right in the mix yet again for the N.L. East crown.  I’m certainly ready to go along for the ride.   Who else is with me?