Mark Wiedmer: Atlanta Braves are anything but deflated

Mark Wiedmer: Atlanta Braves are anything but deflated

July 30th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Atlanta Braves' Chipper Jones is congratulated by teammates after his solo home run against the Philadelphia Phillies during the third inning of their baseball game, Sunday, July 29, 2012, at Turner Field in Atlanta.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Maybe Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson meant to rattle the Atlanta Braves and maybe he didn't. But it certainly seemed like fighting words at the time.

After the Nats split four games with the Braves nine days ago, Johnson said of that series: "[The Braves] had been playing the best in the division. To win the first two and then get a split out of here, if I were them, I'd feel deflated."

If ... I ... were ... them ... I'd ... feel ... deflated.

Johnson may be 69 years old, but he's not above a little psychological warfare/trash talk now and then.

But by any name, it isn't working. At least it hasn't the past eight days.

Yes, the Braves are four games back of the Gnats in the NL East this morning after being 3.5 back at the start of last week. But with five wins in their six outings since it left D.C., Atlanta seems anything but deflated.

In fact, after sweeping the forlorn Phillies for the second time in three weeks, the Braves are looking more and more like a playoff team, regardless of whether or not they catch Washington in the East.

And if they can land another reliable starter before Tuesday's 4 p.m. trade deadline - are you listening, Ryan Dempster? - the Bravos just might be a legitimate threat to reach the World Series for the first time since 1999.

"This was a big, big, big sweep for us," Chipper Jones told MLB.com on Sunday after his 10th home run of the season helped lock down the 6-2 win over the Phils.

"We're playing good baseball, and we feel like we should be able to dominate this homestand."

The Bad News Bears could dominate this homestand, what with tonight's opponent Miami seemingly intent on starting over more than Terrell Owens and the final foe in this homestand - Houston - currently the worst team in the league.

Look at the standings and every team in the division is going rapidly backwards save the Braves and the Nationals.

And while Atlanta playing 22 of 32 on the road between Aug. 20 and Sept. 23 is daunting, 12 of those 22 are at New York, Milwaukee, Miami and Philly, which don't have a single winning record between them.

Beyond that, the Braves have the second best road record (30-20) in all of baseball, with only the Nationals (33-21) that's been better.

Atlanta doesn't have to catch Washington, though. It just needs to finish with the second best record in the NL among those teams which don't win a division title.

Atlanta is currently second in that race, one game behind Pittsburgh, but two games in front of both NL West co-leaders San Francisco and LA.

This doesn't mean the Braves couldn't use Dempster should the Chicago Cubs not be able to make a deal with the Dodgers, who are the pitcher's preferred landing spot.

Yet Dempster would arguably place himself on a better team - and certainly a more certain playoff team - were he to choose the Braves.

But whether or not Atlanta can actually land Dempster and his 2.25 ERA, this team more and more looks like the kind of unit that has just the right chemistry to make a deep playoff run for the first time in 13 seasons.

And it only partly has to do with the Braves' eight wins in their last 11 games. There's a looseness about this bunch that often translates to postseason success.

Consider the past 48 hours, for instance. After Saturday night's victory, Chipper Jones - a Twitter newcomer - tweeted: "4 game [winning] streak since I got on the twitta. Got a date wit the Doc tmrw. Go Bravos."

Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez saw the tweet late Saturday evening and immediately found sleep impossible. He thought Jones was having more knee problems. Not until Sunday did he realize Jones was talking about facing the Phillies' Roy "Doc" Halladay.

"I've got to learn more about Twitter lingo," said Gonzalez on Sunday after the Braves' fifth straight win.

If the Braves can land Dempster, they just might deflate the Gnats and everyone else down the stretch. And that just might send Davey Johnson to a doc with a couch come October.