BISHER: Can the Braves pull off the NL East title?

For the life of me, I don’t know how the Braves had held on this long — and I assure you, that since they have, I’m still not throwing them to the dogs.

You looked up, day after day, and sure enough, there they were. Maybe hanging on by their fingernails, but still there — until they ran into the team with the worst record in the National League.

They throw two of their three best pitchers at the Pirates — Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson — and they wilt like old lettuce. Oh, third best? Jair Jurrjens, but first Derek Lowe gets his turn. Poor Derek, probably the worst $60-million pitching investment in baseball.

It sounds like I-told-you-so, but the truth is, I’d never expected Los Bravos to hold out this long. But since they had, and since they had the Marlins and the Pirates coming up, they might take a few deep breaths and relax a little. Unfortunately, they over-relaxed, and over-stocked. I simply couldn’t understand some of the moves they made.

Let’s see, they now have three first basemen, three centerfielders (two alleged), three catchers and only a census-taker can get a number on the population in the bullpen. I never understood the deal for Derrek Lee, especially since their first baseman of years to come was right down I-85 in Lawrenceville. Freddie Freeman, in case his name had slipped your mind.

One missing ingredient was Chipper Jones, but even he wasn’t willing to sit home and take it by TV. He was not only in the clubhouse every game, but he packed and hit the road. And, got so involved in the game in Florida that he was tossed. You see, you may be in uniform, but if not on the active roster, you have no more say about the game than a guy sitting in the bleachers. Good for Chipper, though, I say!

At one time, there was no better starting rotation in the league, even including Lowe’s unhappy performances. Then there are the two solid rocks in the lineup — Brian McCann and Jason Heyward. (And you may throw in David Ross. He may be a backup to McCann, but his presence represents no serious dropoff.)

From the first day of spring, Bobby Cox has never wavered about his man in right field. This is only the launching season of the Heyward who will become one of the best total players in the National League. Not that he will single-handedly win the NL East for them, but he has put his stamp on right field for years to come.

I swear, I’d have given up on this team weeks ago surer than I would right now. All of their weaknesses are beginning to show more vividly because they’re crumbling at the hands of the Marlins and Pirates. Next, they get the Cardinals in Atlanta. Critical. Then it will only be settled when they and the Phillies thresh it out — three games there and three games here.

Hold your breath.

Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures likes Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.