Through the first quarter of the major-league season, the Atlanta Braves have had their fair share of ups and downs. Between injuries, struggles at the plate, and poor pitching performances, Atlanta already finds themselves nine games back of the Washington Nationals for first place in the NL East. While not very many people predicted the Braves to be contenders this year, nine games back throughout the first month and a half of the season proves there is room for improvement in many areas. Despite Atlanta’s struggles, two players have been stellar during 2017: Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp. The quarter-season Atlanta Braves MVP is Kemp.
Quarter-Season Atlanta Braves MVP
Freeman makes a strong case to be the Braves MVP. His National League leading 14 home runs along with a .343 batting average and .754 slugging percentage prove he is truly one of the best hitters in the game right now. His red-hot start from last season has continued. Freeman has made a legitimate case to be the National League MVP and is not just the MVP of Atlanta’s roster. The ability to hit for both power and average he has displayed over the past year should have gotten everyone’s attention earlier. Whether it is because he plays in a smaller market in Atlanta, or the fact that Atlanta has just been borderline unwatchable for the past couple of years, baseball is only just now starting to see Freeman’s greatness. While the NL MVP should be his, he is not the Atlanta Braves quarter-season MVP.
The Braves traded for Kemp at the trade deadline last year. Atlanta was abysmal on offense, even with Freeman, and desperately needed a right-handed bat to help produce runs. Kemp immediately provided a boost, helping Atlanta go 31 and 25 during the final two months of the season. While this might not seem great, the Braves were on pace for one of the worst seasons in their history before the trade. Kemp hit 12 home runs and drove in 39 runs during his 56 games in Atlanta last season. In addition, he helped Freeman produce over those 56 games. Through Kemp’s lineup protection, Freeman saw better pitches to hit on a regular basis. The offense starting to come together during the final two months of the season.
This season has not been any different. Kemp has just six home runs on the season, but he is hitting .348 with 22 RBI while helping Atlanta score runs in many different ways. The offense struggled this season to produce runs during Kemp’s time on the disabled. In addition, there is a direct correlation to Kemp hitting the ball well and the Braves scoring. Freeman has always hit well regardless of the players around him, but Kemp has allowed Freeman to become one of the best hitters in the league.
The NL MVP should go to Freeman, but Kemp is Atlanta’s quarter-season MVP. He provides protection for Freeman and others. Kemp also produces runs through clutch hitting with RISP in addition to hitting for power.