Chopcast: Playoff run begins as Braves return from break

BY foxsports • July 19, 2013

ATLANTA -- All three of the Braves All-Stars -- Craig Kimbrel, Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman -- have rejoined the team in Chicago to kick off the second half of the season, one in which the organization is poised to make its second-consecutive playoff appearance for the first time since the 2004 and 2005 seasons.

Despite a first half defined, at times, by injuries and inconsistencies, the Bravea hold the largest divisional lead of any team in baseball. That should be considered a positive for a team that has not been (and will not be, really) at full strength.

With the pending return of starter Brandon Beachy and marked improvement from key hitters, notably B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward, as the All-Star break drew near, it's presumably going to take a very, very good final 67 games for the Nationals or anyone else to catch up.

With that in mind, our Braves writers -- Zach Dillard, Cory McCartney and Jay Clemons -- discuss their impressions of the team to date. Here are the highlights:

-- What do the Braves need to improve upon in the second half of the season? Does the hitting or pitching have the more room to grow over the final part of the regular season?

-- Are the Braves a true World Series contender? If they were pitted against a team like the Cardinals or Dodgers or Reds, what would be their chances? Does a team need a go-to ace to be considered a title threat?

-- What is there to make of Brian McCann's first half of the season?

-- Do the Braves need to get off to a similarly hot post-break start?