If you would have told me in March that within the first three months of the season A) the Braves would have three everyday starters with batting averages at or under .200, B) both late-inning left handed bullpen options would be victims of Tommy John surgery, and C) Tim Hudson and Kris Medlen would have a combined record of 7-11, I would have said that Atlanta would be lucky to finish the season with 75 wins.
Well in fact, all three have happened and as we stand today—on June 10th—the Braves are in possession of a 7.5 game lead in the NL East over the Nationals. Even typing this, it’s hard to believe. But Atlanta has been one of the most interesting teams of the year as they have pieced together a first half for the ages.
Offensively, it’s been a story of inconsistency mixed with timeliness. The Braves offense has performed as advertised in the homerun and strikeout categories, but for the most part, the offense has been unpredictable. Early on, the Braves would reel off two wins with 8-10 runs, only to be shutout the next night by a marginal starter. When Justin Upton cooled off from his epic start, Atlanta was forced to rely more heavily on the mix of timely base hits and the occasional homerun. Guys like Ramiro Pena and Jordan Schafer have been the spark to that movement. And while B.J. Upton, Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward have spent most of the season scuffling, it’s been the likes of Evan Gattis, Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson that have paced the offense.
On the mound, it’s been the growth of Mike Minor and Julio Teheran that has kept the Braves afloat, as Tim Hudson has struggled to the tune of a 4.48 ERA and Kris Medlen sports a record of 3-6. Paul Maholm has proven to be the steady starter that Atlanta hoped for when they traded for him last July, giving the Braves 7 wins through his first 13 starts of the season.
The bullpen has been a parade of new faces bridging the gap to Craig Kimbrel, with rookie Alex Wood making his MLB debut less than a year after being drafted in the second round of the 2012 draft. Lefthander Luis Avilan given the Braves a reliable option with after the injuries to Venters and O’Flaherty, and Cory Gearrin has proven to be the go-to guy in a jam.
Ultimately, though, it will have to be the proven stars that get Atlanta into and beyond the Divisional Series. Heyward and company will have to provide a little more consistency to the offense to stave off the inevitable Nationals charge, and a sustained playoff run will most certainly need the kind of big-game starts that the Braves rotation has yet to experience. (Remember, the only current Brave with extended playoff experience is Tim Hudson.)
So, for June 10th it’s nice to be looking behind at the teams that are chasing, but keep any eye on the production of the guys that make the big bucks. It will be their contribution that will make or break the Braves down the stretch.
FYI: If you’re interested in a great story out of the MLB draft this weekend, checkout my piece for Baseball America about the San Diego Padres 10th round draft pick, Justin Livengood here.