Sep 22, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Atlanta Braves pitcher Paul Maholm pours beer on first baseman Freddie Freeman (left) in the locker room after the game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Braves won 5-2 to clinch the National League eastern division championship. Mandatory Credit: David Banks/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

The Braves Had Every Reason Not to Win the NL East, But They Did

Sep 22, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez during the sixth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 22, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez during the sixth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

When a team wins 90+ games, leading their division the entire season and challenges for the best record in the National League, one has to assume that team caught a few breaks or just had a nucleus of solid players that stayed healthy and were able to produce. Well, that certainly isn’t the case for the Braves in 2013. It’s been a hodge-podge mix and match makeshift team from Day 1. The organizational depth and quality subtle acquisitions have helped with the injuries, while several guys have had career-best years to make up for others having career-worst years.

The list of players that have walked in and out of the clubhouse door for the Braves this year is incredible for a 1st place club. Just look at all the guys who have been on the DL:

*season-ending injury

Here is a recap of what’s happened at each position this year (number of games played at that position this year)…

Catcher
Brian McCann (90) misses the first month of the season, however, that allowed Evan Gattis (41) to make the team and prove he is a major league ball player and key contributor to this team. BMac has had another solid season, and Gerald Laird (37) has been a good backup but even he was on the DL.

 
First Base
Freddie Freeman (142) has had an MVP type season, by far the best of his young career; he even spent time on the DL though but Chris Johnson (11) and Evan Gattis (4) stepped in during his absence.

 
Second Base
Dan Uggla (130) – terrible. Remiro Pena (10) – season-ending injury. Tyler Pastronicky (6) – season-ending injury. Elliot Johnson (14), back to Uggla, back to E.J., back to Uggla.

 
Short Stop
Great year for Andrelton Simmons (151). He has been one of the few to avoid injury, has played incredible defense and really increased his power numbers.

 
Third Base
Platoon between Juan Francisco (30) and Chris Johnson (121). Who knew there was another C.J. who would not only fill the shoes of the hall of famer who retired, but compete for a batting title?

 
Left Field
Justin Upton (106) has lived up to the hype. He has played a lot of RF during the 2nd half of the season, and it looks like he’ll be there during the playoffs and Evan Gattis (44) will take over in left.

 
Center Field
B.J. Upton (115) has been horrible. Jordan Schafer (30) did well for a while but has his own injuries and slumps. It looks like Jason Heyward (16) is going to take over CF for the playoffs.

 
Right Field
When he’s been healthy Jason Heyward (84) has played his usual excellent defense, and in the second half of the year has hit really well too. Schafer (28), Reed Johnson (15), Joey Terdoslavich (4), and Justin Upton (50) have held the fort down in his absences, and Upton looks to be the right fielder for the postseason.

 
Starting Rotation

1. Tim Hudson (21) was having another pretty good year but went down for the season, Brandon Beachy (5) returns just in time to replace him but can’t get over elbow inflammation. Freddy Garcia (3) was picked up in August after a miserable year in Baltimore and has made a few good starts in September.
2. Paul Maholm (25) started off blazing hot but cooled down to just average at best, he’s hit the skids a few times with some soreness but still might make a postseason start – or he might not make the roster. Alex Wood has made some starts in his absence but looks to be headed to the bullpen for October.
3. Kris Medlen (30) has had another 2nd half swoon to make this into a pretty good season and may be the Game 1 starter in the Division Series.
4. Mike Minor (31) has had a breakout season, he looks to have a bright future.
5. Julio Teheran (29) is another guy with a breakout season.

 
Bullpen

Craig Kimbrel (66) has been awesome as expected. His anticipated set-up men, however, has been a different story: Eric O’Flarerty (19) who had a 0.98 and 1.73 E.R.A in 2011 and 2012 respectively – season-ending injury; Jonny Venters (0), one of the best setup men in the major leagues – season-ending injury just before Opening Day. Luis Avilan (73), David Carpenter (55) and Anthony Varvaro (60) have all been very pleasant surprises in that role.

 
The Team that was Assembled is Not the Team that Won the Division

When Frank Wren designed this team he certainly had aspirations of B.J. Upton playing a key role – he did sign him to the largest contract in franchise history after all; but we’ve basically seen nothing out of him. The ace of the pitching staff misses the last two months. The franchise RF misses almost two months due to injuries and circumstance (appendix). The highly paid 2B find news lows in terms of batting average. Two big time left-handed set-up men go down before summer?

At the same time, however, several players have stepped up big time. While it may have been expected to happen at some point, Freddie Freeman, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran took a big step forward this year. It could only have been a hope that Chipper’s 3rd base production could come close to being equaled with a platoon situation, but it was surpassed (at least offensively) by Chris Johnson. Evan Gattis came out of nowhere and hit 20 home runs. Nothing was expected out of Jordan Schafer but he produced well as a backup.

Maybe the only players on the team that gave you what you thought you’d get were Justin Upton, McCann, Simmons and Kimbrel. Outside of that, it’s been a wild ride and hard to keep up with who was on the roster. Fredi Gonzalez did a great job with this team, and he should be NL Manager of the Year.

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