ATLANTA — By winning two of three against Washington to complete a successful homestand, the Atlanta Braves confirmed what already was obvious: The NL East race is over. The Braves just can’t officially announce it.
Before the Nationals series, Atlanta won two of three against Miami and Philadelphia in its longest homestand of the season. The Braves lead second-place Washington by 15½ games and boast the majors’ best record.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez rested several starters in Sunday’s 2-1 win over Washington. That could be a preview of “B-team” lineups to come as he gives regulars occasional rest. But he doesn’t want his team to relax.
Atlanta, which opens a two-game series at the Mets today, still has some big questions to answer in the final six weeks of the regular season.
Left-hander Paul Maholm, who says he has recovered from a bruised left wrist, might be ready to come off the 15-day disabled list. Suddenly there will be a surplus of starting pitchers, even after the team lost staff leader Tim Hudson to a season-ending ankle injury last month.
The current rotation includes Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy and Alex Wood. Maholm acknowledged he’s curious to hear where he fits in.
“I feel good,” Maholm said Sunday. “I’m going to talk to them to see what they want me to do and what role they want me to come back in.”
It’s a pleasant dilemma for Gonzalez because there is no obvious weak link among the starters. Maholm could be used to give other starters a rest.
There also is a big question at second base.
The team will have little time before the Aug. 31 trade deadline to see how Dan Uggla responds to corrective eye surgery.
Uggla can come off the disabled list Aug. 28 – only three days before the deadline.
General manager Frank Wren made a minor move by signing infielder Tyler Greene, who can play second base, to a minor league contract last week. The team’s safety net at the position was Tyler Pastornicky, who promptly suffered a season-ending knee injury. Paul Janish, normally a backup shortstop, played strong defense in his first two starts at second base, but he’s hitting only .105. Rookie Phil Gosselin had two hits in his first start Sunday.
Another question is centerfield.
When Jordan Schafer made back-to-back starts in centerfield against Washington, it appeared he might be entering a platoon with B.J. Upton. Gonzalez wouldn’t confirm there will be a platoon and he insisted he remained confident in Upton.
Schafer is hitting .291. He leads the team with 13 stolen bases and his .383 on-base percentage is serves as a strong argument for him as a leadoff hitter.