Despite injuries, Braves manage success on field
Depth of Atlanta's franchise makes whole greater than sum of its parts
The Atlanta Braves should be toast by now. That they're still atop the National League East speaks volumes about this franchise, not just the manager or the players or the farm system, but the larger thing, the franchise.
First, let's not sell the people doing the work short. General manager Frank Wren has done a remarkable job building a franchise, not just a competitive big league roster, but an organization of depth and talent.
The Braves have been forced to dip into their Minor League system so often the last two seasons that it's not even a surprise anymore when the new guy plays about as well as the last guy.
So second baseman Dan Uggla is having problems? OK, let's give one of the kids a shot. How about Tommy La Stella? Go get 'em, Tommy.
Rotation thin? How about Alex Wood? Or David Hale? Or both?
Catcher Evan Gattis down? OK, it's Christian Bethancourt's time.
In that way, the Braves are one of the models for every other organization. They're in first place with one of baseball's youngest rosters, with established homegrown kids playing first (Freddie Freeman), short (Andrelton Simmons) and right (Jason Heyward), starting games (Julio Teheran) and closing games (Craig Kimbrel).
This is how it's supposed to be done. This is how a team stays competitive without an outrageous payroll. When a Brian McCann or a Tim Hudson departs via free agency, Atlanta believes it will figure things out, either by promoting someone from within or finding a short-term free-agent fix.
This is why the Braves are 49-40 and still holding off the Nationals (48-40) in the NL East despite being absolutely decimated by injuries. That is, their whole is greater than the sum of their parts.
Let's not sell the parts short. Manager Fredi Gonzalez is the guy we'd all love to work for. He lets you know he believes in you, and because he believes, it's easier for you to believe.
Gonzalez has kept Atlanta competitive through all the injuries and roster shuffling. Remember that rule of thumb about not replacing a legend? Gonzalez did that in taking over for Bobby Cox, and yet he is writing his own nice legacy.
Gonzalez has a first-rate coaching staff, and as players come and go, their transition to becoming Braves and performing like Braves is absolutely seamless. In Atlanta, this has happened so often, it's the norm.
But it's not normal.
The Braves just win. In the last 22 years, they've been to the postseason 17 times, and somewhere along the way, as Cox, John Smoltz, Chipper Jones and Tom Glavine have come and gone, something magical has been built.
It's an expectation that the Braves will endure, that they're larger than any single person, that the next man up will do his job about as well as the last man. Never has that attitude been more on display than the last couple of years.
These Braves are the next generation. Catchers Gattis and Bethancourt. Middle infielders Simmons and La Stella. Pitchers Teheran, Wood and Hale.
There have been times the last few months when it looked like the Braves simply couldn't survive. Three starting pitchers -- Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, Gavin Floyd -- are gone for the season. Another -- Mike Minor -- was on the disabled list the opening month of the season and has been slow to find his old magic.
Atlanta's best offensive player, Gattis, is on the disabled list with a back injury.
And there are the slumps. B.J. Upton has had a tough two seasons. He has had moments when he has been as good as ever. Other times, though, he has struggled mightily.
Upton is one of those players who can get hot and carry an entire team for weeks at a time, and the Braves still hope they'll get that guy for the stretch run.
Still, it's working. Freeman and Justin Upton are two of baseball's best offensive players. Third baseman Chris Johnson has been solid, as usual. Heyward has been tremendous in right field and also has gotten on base consistently in recent weeks.
Kimbrel anchors baseball's best bullpen, and the starting rotation has remained competitive despite all those injuries. Teheran, 23, is on his way to getting his name on a bunch of NL Cy Young Award ballots.
Somehow, it all works. Just like it usually does. Even this spring, when a starting pitcher seemed to go down every day or so, the Braves never wavered in their belief that they would figure something out, that they would still win, because, hey, that's what they do.
That's how it has played out, too. If we're surprised, we shouldn't be. It's this way almost every year.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.