Why Atlanta Braves Fans Are Nervous With a 14-Game Lead

By M. Shannon Smallwood
Daniel Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

There is no doubt that every Atlanta Braves fan out there is just a little bit on edge right now. Including this guy.

Yes, the Braves may have  the best record in baseball. Yes, Atlanta may has a 14-game lead in the NL East. But something just doesn’t feel right at all. And fans of the Braves know all too well how much the baseball gods love to mess and destroy us.

Here is but a short list of infamous names that have brought tears to A-town:

Charlie Leibrandt, Jim Leyritz (not once, but twice), Reggie (can’t buy a hit) Sanders, Brooks Conrad (or Boots Conrad as this writer officially named him), Angel Hernandez, The Collapse and The Infield Fly. All folks and events that helped derail something special that was in the making for the Braves over the past 22 years.

There is even The Bell.

Matt Chernoff, radio host extraordinaire at 680 the Fan in Atlanta, has decided for the past few years to ring a bell around this point, signaling that the Braves were destined to coast into the postseason. Everyone laughs and kids about The Bell, but after three straight years, the dad-gum thing is obviously a curse and the power for which the baseball gods unleash their wrath against the team.

The first year Chernoff rang it, the Braves went on to become the biggest choke ever in the NL. Atlanta pretty much only won a single game down the stretch and if it were not for the Boston Red Sox, who ended up blowing a bigger lead, Atlanta would be the biggest goat of all goats.

Year two of The Bell led to the debacle that was the Infield Fly Rule that helped end last season’s run in the Wild Card Game versus the St. Louis Cardinals.

And now The Bell has struck yet again. On Tuesday, Chernoff rang the bell, calling the Braves division champions for 2013. Within 24 hours, Atlanta lost Jason Heyward to a broken jaw after he was hit in the face, and may very well lose Brandon Beachy, who has returned to Birmingham to see Dr. James Andrews about some soreness in his elbow … after going Tommy John Surgery about this time last year.

Now, the New York Mets do deserve some credit for these latest blows. In the Braves’ last two trips to Flushing, the Mets have managed to knock Atlanta’s ace pitcher in Tim Hudson out for the season, along with Beachy and Heyward. Thank god the Braves do not have to go back to New York again this season.

If they did, you can bet Fredi Gonzalez would play the triple-A roster just to make sure nothing else squirrely happens.

But all joking aside, Atlanta is in a very interesting position due to these injuries. The loss of Heyward for the next six weeks of the regular season is huge. The Braves were a different and a dominant team with him in the leadoff spot. Plus the fact is that Heyward has missed time this season with an appendectomy, and now a broken jaw is just bizarre. You have to chalk that up to the baseball gods messing around with the Braves.

The 2013 Atlanta team was constructed on talented depth. When someone has gone down, there has been someone there to pick up the slack. Without a doubt, B.J. Upton has to find away to quiet the demons in his head and be the guy the Braves thought he would be the rest of the season. Upton has to find away to ignore the .180 average staring at him on the Jumbotron and convince himself that his season starts today.

Likewise, Dan Uggla has to do the same when he returns in the next week from his Lasik surgery, while Evan Gattis has to break out of his 0-16 slump. These two along with Upton can carry Atlanta for the next month, without a doubt.

So as Kris Medlen takes the mound tonight against Adam Wainwright in St. Louis, all Braves fans will eagerly await to see who steps up to be the hero, or if the curse claims another victim. There is not a more perfect scenario for Atlanta to prove it has matured and can overcome any obstacle than a dominant win against Wainwright and the Cardinals.

M Shannon Smallwood is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the US Basketball Writers Association. Follow him @woodysmalls.

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