Friday, July 15, 2011

Atlanta Braves First Half Report Card

The "Second Half" of the Braves season begins tonight at home with a weekend series against the Washington Nationals.  The Braves currently stand at 54-38 and are 3.5 games behind the Phillies in the NL East.  On my first half report card, I predicted the Braves to be 52-40 at the break, so they did me two games better.  Will the second half be as good as the first for the Braves?  First, let's recap what we've seen so far:

Offense:  B
This is a minor improvement over the B- I gave them after the first half, as it does appear the lineup is coming together, despite some key injuries.  Chipper Jones is out until August and Martin Prado could be activated for the DL this weekend, but the emergence of Jordan Schafer in the leadoff spot and the re-emergence of the real Dan Uggla has given Braves fans a little more confidence in the offense.  Brian McCann is a legitimate MVP candidate and Nate McLouth (don't hate Nate!) has been getting on base at a high clip from the eighth spot.

By the numbers: The Braves are 26th in MLB in batting average (.237) and 27th in on-base percentage (.305).  They are still getting a lot of bang for their buck at the plate, as they are 9th with 97 HRs and 18th in runs with 365.

The story seems the same from earlier in the year.  The Braves are living by the long ball on offense, and having trouble applying pressure to opposing teams in their lack of ability to manufacture runs.  Will Frank Wren make a move for a big bat before the trade deadline?

Studs:  Brian McCann, Chipper Jones (when healthy), Freddie Freeman
Duds:  Alex Gonzalez, Jason Heyward
Heating Up:  Dan Uggla

Pitching: A+
It would be hard to imagine or expect the Braves pitching to staff to be any better than they have been in the first half.  Jair Jurrjens is leading the NL in wins and ERA and is a bona fide Cy Young contender.  The "O'Ventbrel" (Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel) combination at the back of the bullpen is the best in baseball.  Venters, Jurrjens and Kimbrel all made the All-Star team and Tommy Hanson should have been there as well.

There are very few negatives on the staff and you have to search far to find them.  Derek Lowe hasn't been very good since April (5-7, 4.30 ERA) and Scott Proctor's best days appear to be long gone.  Tim Hudson has been a bit inconsistent this season as well, as his 8-6 record shows.  Hudson has 11 starts where he's given up two earned runs or less, but 4 starts where he's given up at least five runs.

By the numbers:  The Braves are 2nd in MLB in ERA (3.11), 2nd in saves (34), 2nd in strikeouts (736) and 4th in shutouts (10).

Just like the first quarter, the Braves have arguably the best staff in baseball and may have the best chance of matching up with the Phillies staff in the playoffs.  Here's to an injury-free second half!

Studs:  Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel, Eric O'Flaherty, Tommy Hanson
Duds:  Scott Proctor, Derek Lowe
Heating Up:  Peter Moylan (getting ready to come back from injury)

Fielding:  A-
Prior to the season, this was thought to be a worry for the Braves, but they've become a very good fielding team, to the surprise of many.  McLouth, Schafer, Prado and Heyward are all excellent outfielders and the infield defense has been stellar as well.  Freddie Freeman's slick glove work has saved a number of errors so far this season.

By the numbers:  Tied for 9th in fielding percentage (.985), 13th in errors (54)

Studs:  Freddie Freeman, Jordan Schafer, Nate McLouth, Alex Gonzalez
Duds:  None

Coaching:  B+
While I believe Fredi Gonzalez has done an excellent job of creating an atmosphere of comfortable performance this season, I have one reason for question: his (over)use of O'Ventbrel.  Will the back end of the bullpen hold up for the rest of the season?  There's been a lot of O'Flaherty (7th), Venters (8th), Kimbrel (9th) games this season, which could affect the team in September and October.

Overall:  A-
At the All-Star Break, the Braves are where most fans and experts expected, the second best team in the NL, behind the Phillies.  Right now the Braves hold a five game lead over Arizona in the wild card race.  The Braves are in a great position despite some tough injuries to some key players.  Will Frank Wren make a trade in the next two weeks before the deadline? Could it be a blockbuster that will alter the NL East race? 

Right Now: 54-38
3rd Quarter Prediction (August 15):  69-52 

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