The Braves start the nominal second half Friday night against the Nationals, safely ensconced in second place 3 1/2 games in back of Philadelphia and well ahead in the wild card race. They hold the third best record (fourth best winning percentage) in baseball and are 16 games over .500 in spite of all the injuries and wasted chances in the first 92 games.
With the Mets and Marlins in disarray and the Nationals still a year away from a serious challenge the Braves seem to be ready for the post season. The only question is whether they can overtake the Phillies. In case you haven’t looked the schedule looks like this:
Of those teams only the Cubs, Rockies and Dodgers are currently below .500 and they’ve all played us tough over the years.
Pitching: Our staff overcame Brandon Beachy’s oblique injury, Tim Hudson and Eric O’Flaherty’s bouts of back stiffness and a few odd bullpen decisions. They currently have the League ERA and wins leader in Jair Jurrjens, the hits/ nine innings leader in Tommy Hanson and saves leader (and Rookie saves record holder) Craig Kimbrel. We lead in a bunch of other geeky stats as well but to quote an old commercial. These guys are good!
Brian McCann is having an MVP year. His .310/.381/.514 and 50 RBI lead all Braves regulars, he’s tied with Dan Uggla for the team lead in home runs with 15 and his defense – including throwing out runners – is much improved. He’s not Ivan Rodriguez in his prime but he is the best all around catcher in the game right now.
Freddie Freeman has been exactly as advertised. His sure hands at first have saved Alex Gonzalez and our 3rd basemen numerous errors and he’s made some superb plays on shots down the line and pop flies over his head to take away hits and kill rallies. At the plate he’s done what he’s been doing at every level; starting slowly then taking off and hitting all pitchers well. Currently .274/.347/.459 43RBI and 13 home runs is second among regulars (Martin Prado has a higher batting average but has played 26 less games.) My Rookie of the Year pick is currently 3rd among qualifying rookies for homers, RBI and OBP and 4th in BA and SLG. His main challengers are Starlin Castro from the Cubs, Danny Espinosa of the Nats and teammate Craig Kimbrel.
Chipper Jones started off hot but a meniscus tear in his right knee his surgeon called so bad that he was amazed Chipper was able to play at all, ended that run abruptly. In spite of the pain Chipper remained on the field because Prado was on the DL. As a result his numbers – .274/.347/.459 8 homers – are way down from his career norm but he somehow remained one of our best clutch hitters. His 46 RBI is third on the team, with RISP his line of .403/.455/.567 leads the team and his two out RISP line of .381/.435/.524 with 8 RBI in 21 AB is second only to MVP Brian McCann. Chipper had surgery to repair the tear and expects to be back in time for the Pittsburgh series on the 25th. Chipper waited on Prado to be ready to return, he does just that tonight against the Nationals.
Martin Prado’s much anticipated and needed return returns a quality player to the lineup who will get on base, hit in the clutch and play every inning like it’s the one that determines the championship. Getting him back also adds a right handed stick to the group and when Chipper returns balances out a heavily lefty lineup a better. Along with the bright spots have been some that were not so bright.
Without going into too much detail the Braves need to see continued improvement from Dan Uggla, hope that the break rekindles last year’s Jason Heyward and find a way to get on base at the top of the lineup at better than a .286 rate. I think the first two will happen. Uggla will hit, he always has and he eventually will. When he does finding a way through the lineup after McCann won’t be as easy as it has been so far. Jason Heyward is an enigma. He has all the tools and plays like an old head at times then suddenly he’ll look like Magellan tracking a routine fly ball down or start swinging at pitches he usually ignores. The latter concerns me more because he’s supposed to be a run producer and we need him in that role. I like to hear he spent some time with Dale Murphy or David Justice who played his role successfully for us in years gone by.
General Manager Frank Wren’s interview with Carroll Rogers in the AJC yesterday was interesting not for what he said but what he didn’t say. The GM said that we will fill most of our needs from within and it might not be necessary to make any moves at all. That’s standard GM speak for this time of year. No GM is going to tell the world what he’s thinking two weeks before the trade deadline and while I don’t agree with many of his moves Wren knows how to play this part of the game, so the interview had no real news in it.
The GM confirmed that our top pitching prospects weren’t available “unless there’s something extraordinary out there to us (sic)” and that the trade market held “few players that would make an impact.” He’s right on both counts. I’ve seen no right handed bench bat I’m drooling over and to get a top rated pitching prospect from us a team should be ready to provide a controllable major league ready player in return. I see no evidence that’s going to happen. I did find interesting his response to a question about Jordan Schafer.
Ask is he was happy with what he had seen from Schafer he said, “I think we’ve seen a lot of growth out of Jordan in the last year. . . We hope he continues to grow with it because that’s going to be important as well.” Last winter he was Schafer’s biggest supporter, praising him in print often prior to his disappoint spring. I think (hope) the quote indicates that he is actively looking for a solution in center that doesn’t include Schafer or our fourth outfielder Nate McClouth.
I think the team we have will get us to October. I also think that it needs reinforcement in a couple of places if it’s to bring Chipper a pre-retirement World Series ring. I know who I see as trade targets, who are yours and what would you give up to get them?