Atlanta Braves Midseason Report: Deconstructing the First Half

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MIAMI, FL - JULY 11: Ender Inciarte #11 of the Atlanta Braves and the National League swings at a pitch during the 88th MLB All-Star Game at Marlins Park on July 11, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The rebuilding Atlanta Braves are three games under .500 and within striking distance of playoff contention at the All-Star break. That’s an incredible feat, even moresp considering Atlanta started the season 1-6 — they have a winning record since their eighth game — and lost MVP candidate Freddie Freeman for half of the season. Also consider that future star Dansby Swanson has been one of the least valuable players in baseball, and fun-loving, free-agent acquisition Bartolo Colon might be the worst pitcher in baseball.

The Braves haven’t let three players and a rough start decide their season. They’ve just kept on playing.

Atlanta Braves Midseason Report: Deconstructing the First Half

What Went Right

Atlanta’s offense has continued its dominance of National League pitching since last August, even without their best slugger. With that said, apart from All-Star center fielder Ender Inciarte and the half-season Freeman has produced, no Braves player has amassed award-worthy numbers at the plate. Instead, the offense is performing as a collective unit, from top to bottom. They average over four runs per game and rank in the top half in baseball at almost every offensive category.

Brandon Phillips and Nick Markakis routinely get on base to start rallies and deliver clutch hits to complete them. Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki have combined for the best stats among catchers in the National League, a spot considered a weakness to start the season. Then, there’s Matt Adams.

The Braves could have taken their loss with Freeman gone for over forty games. Instead, they made a deal with the St. Louis Cardinals to acquire Adams, who was struggling to get playing time. He’s done nothing short of matching Freeman’s power and playing manageable defense. He’s even performed well enough to induce the Braves megastar to abandon the only position he’s ever played in the majors.

In all, this is the production expected from the Atlanta offense before the season started. Given the disappointment of Swanson at the plate and the absence of Freeman, this production is incredible.

What Went Wrong

With all the success the Braves have showcased at the plate, they should have produced better results in the standings.

The starting rotation has been a roller coaster so far this season. They aren’t the worst rotation in baseball, but they surely aren’t the best. The starters still haven’t gotten used to the Braves new home, SunTrust Park, which is concerning, but all together, apart from the horrendous stretch from Colon, the rotation has been just above mediocre. Inconsistent, but not treacherous.

The real disappointment comes from the bullpen. The ‘pen has blown thirteen games which Atlanta led after the seventh inning. That’s horrifying considering how close they could be to a playoff berth. They’ve struggled to find a solid guy that can bring them into the ninth with the lead. Even when they do, closer Jim Johnson has found his way to blowing seven games.

If Atlanta were to shore up the rotation and bullpen for the second half, they could make a serious ascent up the Wild Card standings, even competing for the National League East.

What Comes Next

What comes next in Atlanta will be determined within the next few series. The Braves boast the toughest schedule in the National League for the month of July, facing the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Dodgers over their next thirteen games. How they fare against the best competition in the National League should decide whether the front office plays buyer or seller at the trade deadline.

Atlanta could go either way, come July 31. They have a large selection of veterans with expiring contracts to sell off. Yet, they’re also building for the future. The Braves could add a frontline starter on a great contract that other rebuilding teams farther off than Atlanta are willing to deal.

Either way, this will be an exciting team to watch for the next two-and-a-half months. At worst, they’re on pace to produce Atlanta’s best record since a division title in 2013. Plus, they have a slew of young talent ready to debut in September. At the best, they could compete for the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

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