We’ve reached the All-Star break in Major League Baseball, and that’s the traditional halfway point of the season (although technically more than half of the games have already been played). So let’s take a look at where the Atlanta Braves stand at the crossroads to October, and hand out some marks to the class.
Right now the Braves are at 46-39, sitting four games behind the division leading Washington Nationals, and tied for the wild card lead with the Cincinnati Reds. They are 6-4 in their last ten games, and have won their last four in a row. According to computer calculations, the Braves stand a 53.3% chance of making the playoffs this year. This isn’t far off where most people expected Atlanta to be, but I doubt most had predicted the team sitting above them would be Washington.
In the National League, the Braves are fourth in runs scored (391), sixth in batting average (.259), seventh in slugging percentage (.408), and fifth in on-base percentage (.324). Although those stats in and about themselves aren’t terrible, Atlanta has come up short once again in situational hitting, and in runners left on base. They are fifteenth in the league in pinch-hitter hits (17) and dead last in pinch-hitter batting average (.160), so the bench bats just aren’t getting the job done.
One of the biggest concerns about the Braves’ bats is the continued streakiness. The big guns seem to be going in and out of slumps at the same time, or manage to combine their slumps with injuries to other key players. Brian McCann has had an absolutely horrid season at the plate so far, but he did seem to be coming around during the final four games before the break.
The Braves simply don’t have the bench depth to make up for those kind of hitting deficiencies, and Atlanta will have to be more consistent at the plate for a playoff spot to be in their future.
Starting Pitching: C-
I’m one of the few who didn’t think the Braves had enough quality starting pitching when the season began, so the lack of success in their starting rotation really doesn’t surprise me. Thus far, it’s been a two man show for the Braves, with Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson being the only two giving Atlanta consistent quality starts. Jair Jurrjens appears to have rebounded from his early season implosion, but he still remains a question mark in the minds of many.
The Braves starters are twelfth in the league in ERA (4.11), fifth in wins (34), and twelfth in innings pitched (497.1). That last stat has obviously done a lot to tire out the bullpen. They have also given up 188 walks. Only the San Diego Padres starters have given up more free passes.
For the Braves to make a post-season run, they will have to make a decision in regards to Mike Minor and Randall Delgado. The two youngsters have been spotty and inconsistent, and the Braves can’t afford to continue with both of them in the starting rotation. One of (or even both) of them will have to be sent to the minors or possibly even traded. It appears that mid-season pickup Ben Sheets is now ready to join the rotation, but the Braves shouldn’t count on the injury prone Sheets to be their rock in the middle.
Atlanta still needs to go out and get another quality veteran like a Matt Garza or Zack Greinke, but should beware giving up too much of the future and getting fleeced like they did in the Mark Teixeira deal.
The bullpen failures have to be a huge area of concern for GM Frank Wren. This was the one area of the team where he wasn’t supposed to have to put any real focus during the free-agent and trade frenzy. Outside of closer Craig Kimbrel, the Braves bullpen has been shaky, and at times, disastrous.
The Braves pen is fifth in the league in ERA (3.54), but a lot of that number can be attributed to Kimbrel’s 1.36 ERA. Only four bullpens in the league have pitched more innings than Atlanta, but the Braves pen has done it in less games than any of them.
Another ugly stat, Atlanta’s relievers have given up 30 home runs this season…good enough for 13th in the league.
The problem with the Braves bullpen isn’t that they are sitting in the middle of the pack in most statistics, but that they were supposed to be far and away leading the pack at this point. There isn’t a lot of bullpen help available out there this season, so the Braves may just have to adjust and make due with what they have. But so far, none of the combinations are really working too well.
The Braves defense has actually been pretty solid this season. They are third in the league in fielding percentage and total errors (.985 and 48), and other than a couple of bad games, they seem to be playing good fundamental defense. The shortstop position will have to be watched closely now with Andrelton Simmons being lost to a broken finger suffered in the last game before the break. Simmons is in a cast, and is currently on the 15-day disabled list, although the Braves don’t really have a timetable for his return.
Atlanta has a long way to go if they want to stay in contention for a playoff spot. If some major roster moves aren’t made before the trade deadline, the Braves may be watching the post-season from their living rooms again.
Mid-Season MVP: Michael Bourn. Absolutely the most consistent player for the team all season. Bourn should be an All-Star starter, but due to the flawed process, he’s lucky to be even making the trip to Kansas City.
Mid-Season Bust: Mike Minor. Minor looked like the cream of the crop during spring training. Now he’s just the skim floating on top.
Mid-Season Comeback of the Year: Chad Durbin. With a 10.13 ERA after the first two weeks of the season, Atlanta fans were ready to run him out of town. Since then, he’s been a rock in an otherwise rocky bullpen, sporting a 3.78 ERA and having only given up three runs in the entire month of June.