Atlanta Braves Dominating NL East: 5 Reasons Why
Atlanta Braves Lead Washington Nationals for Multitude of Reasons
The Atlanta Braves currently find themselves 13.5 games up in the NL East, and with just 49 games left in the season, the division looks all but wrapped-up.
But how did they get here? A team that was supposed to finish second to Davey Johnson’s “World Series or bust” Washington Nationals, the Braves are running away with the East. Their lead is the largest in any division through August 4 since 2005, when the Chicago White Sox led the AL Central by an insurmountable 14 games.
What is unique about the Braves is that they feature no true superstars. You cannot look at the Braves’ lineup and single out one or two players as having carried the team. There are no individuals with staggering numbers; instead, the torch has been carried by the team as a whole, with a multitude of players stepping up throughout the season.
When some players slumped, others came to the forefront, elevated their level of play and helped the team win ballgames. What the Braves have shown throughout the season is a willingness to do whatever it takes, with whomever it takes, to get the win.
They are the epitome of “team,” and it shows in the way they play the game, how they carry themselves, and on their faces in the dugout and clubhouse. It is extremely rare that a team is able to absorb such lengthy slumps from star players as well as the Braves have this season.
Here are five reasons why the Braves find themselves in such a comfortable position.
Chris Johnson's Bat a Pleasant Surprise
Chris Johnson has been nothing short of a revelation. A throw-in player in the Justin Upton deal, Johnson is leading the NL in batting average at .342 and is second in all of baseball behind only Miguel Cabrera. The Braves’ third baseman had huge shoes to fill, taking over for the retired Chipper Jones. But Johnson has done so swimmingly, providing the bottom of the Braves’ lineup with some much-needed pop all season long, and recently increasing his run production as Freddi Gonzalez has moved him up in the order.
Mike Minor's Emergence as Legitimate Ace
Mike Minor is well on his way to becoming an ace. The 25-year-old is in just his third season in the big leagues and has shown steady and quick progress, especially this year. With an 11-5 record, 2.76 ERA and a WHIP of 1.04, Minor is now the pitcher the Braves look to when they need to stop a skid. He has shown poise and maturity beyond his years all season long, and there is no doubt he will be the Braves’ no. 1 starter in their playoff rotation.
All-Star Freddie Freeman's Consistent Production
Freddie Freeman has been the rock of the Braves’ offense all season long. He has hit no prolonged slumps, his average having dropped below .280 only once all season (May 14 at the Arizona Diamondbacks) and not having dipped under .300 since May 28 vs. the Toronto Blue Jays. Currently hitting .311 with 13 home runs and 75 RBIs, Freeman sits fourth in the NL in RBI and 10th in all of baseball. He has been consistently productive all year and could be the first Brave to reach 100 RBIs since both Chipper Jones and Jeff Francoeur did so in 2007.
Braves' Bench With Consistent Clutch Production
The Braves bench is, hands down, the best in baseball. Recently they have been plagued by injury, but they have accounted for multiple wins on the season. With the likes of Evan Gattis, Jordan Schafer, Reed Johnson, Ramiro Pena, and Joey Terdoslavich and Todd Cunningham of late, the Braves’ bench is both deep and productive. Gattis has 15 home runs and 44 RBIs in limited playing time, with four of those home runs coming in pinch-hit at bats. Schafer leads the team with nine steals and before going on the DL, he was hitting .312 with a .399 OBP. The Braves' bench has, time and again, come up with big hits and proved itself more than capable of stepping up when a regular goes down with injury or simply needs a rest.
Atlanta Bullpen Nearly Unhittable
The Braves’ bullpen was touted as the best in baseball before the season started, and it has not disappointed. The team leads the majors in bullpen ERA at 2.44, well ahead of the second-place Kansas City Royals, who boast a 2.88 bullpen ERA. The Braves also lead all of baseball in bullpen batting average against (.213) and WHIP (1.13). With the likes of David Carpenter, Scott Downs and Jordan Walden setting up the ninth inning for the game’s best closer in Craig Kimbrel, if the Braves dip into their bullpen with the lead, you can pretty well mark it down as a win.