In terms of games, the first half of the season actually passed over a week ago, but the All-Star Break marks the midway point for MLB and it’s a natural time to evaluate where the team stands going into the second half of the season. The Braves finished tied for first with the Nationals at the break, but it was nothing short of a struggle in the weakest division in MLB to get there.
The Braves have a lot of work left to do to win the NL East and get to the postseason. Atlanta also needs to improve in a number of areas if they are to have a chance if/when they do make it to the playoffs. So, what are the top five things to expect to see from the Braves in the second half of the season? My picks follow…
5. Getting RISPy
The Braves were downright awful in the first half with runners in scoring position (RISP). They hit .243 and were 26th in MLB in producing an RBI with RISP. With 2-outs and RISP, it was worse. Atlanta hit .183 in those situations — good for 28th in MLB — and only produced 87 RBIs as a team in those situations.
To go along with those sparkling numbers the Braves were second worst in MLB in striking out with RISP (212) and were tied for first — worst first — in striking out with 2-out and RISP (113). The Braves starting rotation has been good enough to get the Braves well out in front of the NL East at this point of the season, but the offense hasn’t done their part to support all of the quality starts the rotation has produced.
Bottom line, the Braves need clutch hits in the second half of the season if they plan on making the post-season, whether it be by winning the NL East or the Wild Card. And if they do somehow make the post-season without improving those stats, well, you can’t win if you don’t score.
4. More Records for Kimbrel
Craig Kimbrel leads the NL in saves at the All-Star Break with 29. With 11 more saves, Kimbrel will have his fourth consecutive season with 40 saves tying Trevor Hoffman and Francisco Rodriguez as the only men to accomplish the feat. Kimbrel set the Braves record earlier this season for career saves and is on the verge of joining some elite company if he makes the 40 mark again. His teammates just need to get him the opportunities.
3. Trade Winds
A bat or an arm? What will Frank Wren do to help this team go from mediocre to ‘a little better than mediocre’? If the Braves bring in a starter, will he fair any better than the current arms in the rotation have, considering the team doesn’t score many runs?
If it’s a reliever, is that more of an indication that management is happy — or stuck — with the lineup the way it is? If it’s a bat, what position does that fill and who moves out of the lineup to make room? *Cough*BJ*Cough*
The biggest question within rumor mill is how long will the Braves wait to make a move? If they wait too long to get a cheaper price, will someone they really want be gone before Frankie can pull the trigger? Will they have to settle for their second or third choice? Or, not make a move at all if it costs them too much in top tier prospects?
Just two weeks to go until the trade deadline…stay tuned.
2. The Uggla Soap Opera
Will he stay? Will he play? Will Frankie finally give him his DFA?
Will he finally be let go? Will his forearms continue to grow?
Will he get an at-bat? Will Fredi-G continue to wonder, “where is he at?”
These are the questions that cause many a sleepless night in Braves country. Yes, Uggs got suspended one game
before the all-star break for being late to the park, but can you really blame him? First of all, Chicago is an hour behind, so he probably thought he was two hours early. Does anyone really understand central time?
Second, The wind was blowing out at Wrigley Field all weekend long. Did anyone stop and think that Danny might just have been late because he was daydreaming of a pinch-hit opportunity? Visualizing one of his pop-ups to third carrying over the left field fence? Anyone? Obviously Fredi-G wasn’t thinking out of the box.
It’s only a month-and-a-half away from expanding active rosters to 40 and by keeping Uggla around, the Braves appear to be satisfied with playing against the rest of the league with 24 guys instead of 25 until then. If the Braves don’t part with Uggs before then, he will drop from 25th to 40th on the depth chart and the month of September becomes a little more reasonable for the Braves, but the real question is can they hold out that long a man short and stay in the race for the NL East?
1. Frustrating Losses
The first half of the season was an exercise in frustration for Atlanta fans. The Braves were swept by the Phillies, Red Sox, Mariners and Marlins and had series losses to the Diamondbacks, Giants twice, Cardinals, and Mets. Three of the four teams that swept the Braves have losing records on the season.
On the flip side, the Braves swept the Reds, Marlins, Nationals, Mets, and Phillies. With the way the Atlanta offense struggles to hit with RISP you never know what you’re going to get on a night-in, night-out basis and it’s certainly safe to say that Braves fans should keep their favorite stress relieving elixir stocked in the pantry.
Pirates? Padres? Phillies? Rangers? All have losing records, all are on the schedule in the second half and all more than capable of imploding the Braves corner of the Twitter-verse if Atlanta plays down to it’s competition. If the first half of the season is any indication, Braves nation may be in store for a few more unanticipated valleys before the season ends. Let’s just hope one of those doesn’t cost them a chance to play in October.
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**Stats from mlb.com and yahoosports.com