Jun 26, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Atlanta Braves third baseman Chris Johnson (23) warms up during batting practice before the game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Braves: Fresh Start?

June 10, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Atlanta Braves right fielder Reed Johnson (7) prior to the game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves finished the first half of the 2013 season on a bit of a downer, with injuries to all of their starting outfielders.  Jason Heyward exited the July 11th game early with a strained right hamstring, an injury suffered while sliding into 3rd base.  Jason was not in the lineup for the games on July 12-14, and is currently listed as Any Day on the Braves.com Injury Report.  The team is hopeful he will return to the lineup in the upcoming series against the Chicago White Sox on Friday, but that remains to be seen.   Justin Upton exited the game the very next day after Jason’s injury with a left calf strain, and is also listed as Any Day, with an expectation of returning to the lineup shortly after the current break.  B.J. Upton strained his groin (right abductor muscle) and was placed on 15-day DL on July 14, retroactive to July 13.  He is not expected to return until sometime late July.

The old saying is that when it rains, it pours, and that’s certainly true for Atlanta.  In addition to the injuries just mentioned, Freddie Freeman also has a jammed left thumb.  The successful push to get Freddie Freeman into the All Star game was a source of great enthusiasm all across Braves’ Country, and yet the air was quickly let out of that balloon when Freddie was unable to actually play in the ASG due to the thumb.  Currently, Freeman was reported to have increased mobility in thumb on July 16, is scheduled to be re-evaluated tomorrow, and if all goes as hoped, could be back in the regular lineup on the 19th to start the series with the Sox.

As the Braves are set to begin their 2nd half push for October this coming Friday in a series against the Chicago White Sox, the bad news is that they could start the 2nd half without the benefit of the Up, Up, and a Hey outfield, and possibly without Freeman at 1B.  The good news is three-fold – the Braves will be playing the struggling White Sox (37-55) to begin the 2nd half, although they may have to face All Star Chris Sale (still undetermined),  Secondly, even if the Braves’ regular outfield are not in the lineup on Friday, bench players’ Reed Johnson, Joey Terdoslavich, and Jose Constanza stepped it up like seasoned veterans as the Braves finished the 1st half against the Cincinnati Reds.  Finally, should Freeman not be able to return, the Braves recently re-activated rookie Evan Gattisoff the DL to help in Freddie’s absence, and while Gattis is no Freeman at 1B, he still brings considerable offensive power to the injury-plagued Atlanta Braves.

Jul 14, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves center fielder B.J. Upton (2) sits on the bench during the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

All that we know for sure as the Braves start their push in the 2nd half, is that B.J. Upton will not be in the lineup.  While it’s never a good thing for any player to be injured, there are a number of fans who are happy, under the circumstances, for Reed Johnson to be able to play center field for a while.  Jordan Schafer might normally fill that role, but he too is on the DL with a stress fracture to his right foot, and isn’t likely to see more action until sometime in August.  B.J. Upton has been in a major funk all season, hitting on line of just .177/.266/.300/.565, which is dead last in all of the majors.  Many people expect B.J. to turn that around in the 2nd half.  The argument they make is that he has often had a better 2nd half than a 1st, and will probably do so again.  Maybe, but my eye test on B.J. worries me, and the truth is that while he has sometimes hit better in the 2nd half than the first, it hasn’t been dramatically different.  If you take a look at his 1st and 2nd half splits going back to 2009, here is what you’ll find:

B.J. Upton’s 2009 Season

1st Half .239 .326 .375 .701
2nd Half .245 .293 .371 .664
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/17/2013.

B.J. Upton’s 2010 Season

1st Half .230 .320 .395 .715
2nd Half .245 .324 .457 .781
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/17/2013.

B.J. Upton’s 2011 Season

1st Half .239 .325 .427 .752
2nd Half .247 .338 .430 .768
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/17/2013.

B.J. Upton’s 2012 Season

1st Half .248 .303 .376 .679
2nd Half .244 .294 .525 .819
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/17/2013.


As you can see by the above stats, B.J.’s second half performances are not that much better than his first half.  Those stats and my personal eye test on B.J. alone lead  me to believe we shouldn’t expect much more of a performance going forward!  We could even get a worse performance from him in the 2nd half of 2013.  I’m not rooting for that to happen.  In fact, I’m rooting for B.J. to defy these statistics and put together a 2nd half that will confound the numbers.  I’m not hopeful, but I’m still rooting for it, so please don’t lump me in with the many B.J. Upton haters.

The other things to bear in mind for the Braves’ 2nd half are questions that may be answered by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.  With the losses of Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, and Cristhian Martinez, the Braves have done surprisingly well with their relief staff, but they still need help (See Alan Carpenter’s piece on some of the latest possibilities there – and by the way, I love the very idea of getting Jesse Crain).  Alex Wood was brought in to help in middle relief, and has done a pretty good job, but there is a current debate (friendly debate I should add) going on among two of our staff writers, Benjamin Chase and Fred Owens, as to whether or not Wood should stay in that role.

If things go like I hope they will, the Braves will be able to acquire some badly needed help from true relievers in the 2nd half.  I doubt we’ll see many other trades beyond pitching relief, but who knows?  Some say we need a true 3rd baseman, but despite Chris Johnson‘s penchant for errors at the hot corner, his bat has been so good you just cannot take him out of the lineup!  I would say that Fredi Gonzalez‘ tendency to bat CJ in the eight hole needs to come to a dead stop as well.  Anomaly or not, Johnson’s bat is too good right now to be that low in the lineup.  That changed some at the tail end of the 1st half, and my hope is it will change permanently in the 2nd, as long as Johnson keeps hitting like he’s been.  I have even argued that if the Braves make any change by the deadline with position players, perhaps we should replace Dan Uggla.  That’s probably not going to happen, but for me that’s a bigger need than any change at 3rd.

There are other questions of course, such as how the starting rotation will go.  It’s been reported that Tim Hudson will start the 2nd half in game 1 against the Sox, and fans just hope that the starters will keep improving, cut down on the hiccups, and get more consistent from outing to outing.  The injuries to our normal outfield should iron itself out pretty well, and if not, the bench has been great.  With Evan Gattis back in the lineup, the pinch hitting horizon looks bright, and he can fill several other roles admirably as well.  Finally, with a 2nd half schedule consisting mostly of home games, no long and drawn out western trips, and battles against many teams that have struggled all year, the 2nd half looks bright for the Braves.  The post season will be a tougher row to hoe, but I fully expect the Braves to get there.  That’s half the battle.

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