Overall the Braves had a lot of success in the first half. After starting off the year somewhat slow, the Braves went 24-12 since June 1st. That mark of 24-12 is a major league best over that span. Unfortunately for the Braves, their division rival Phillies had the 2nd best record in the majors since June 1st at 23-13, allowing the Braves to gain just one game on their division leaders. The Braves enter the all-star break just 3.5 games behind the Phillies while holding a 5 game lead in the wild card, so it looks like the Braves and the Phillies will be headed to the playoffs. The only question will be who wins the division and gets home field advantage in the playoffs? We’ll answer that question by discussing who played well in the first half and needs to continue playing well, who played poorly and needs to pick it up, and what moves do the Braves need to make, if any, in order to overtake the Phillies.
Brian McCann: The 6 time All-Star catcher is obviously the Braves MVP at this point. He leads the team in BA (.310), HR (15), Hits (91), RBI (50), Slugging (.514), and OPS (.894). Furthermore, McCann has been a clutch hitter all year-long. His Wins Above Replacement (How many wins above what an average replacement would give the team) is 2.3. Meaning McCann has given the team 2.3 wins above what an average catcher would have given us. The next closest offensive player is just .9 WAR. The Braves catcher needs to continue producing in the clutch if the Braves expect to compete with the Phillies. He’ll end the year with about 30 HR .310 avg. and 100 RBI’s and that should be plenty.
Freddie Freeman: Freddie has been a huge surprise for the Braves this year. Not that they didn’t know he could rake, but they didn’t expect him to catch on this quickly. Freeman is second on the team in Hits (86), Slugging (.459), and OPS (.805). He is third on the team in Avg. (.274) RBI (43) and HR (13). Just as important as Freddie’s offense has been his defense. He’s saved the Braves more than a few runs with his play at 1st base. Freeman just needs to cut down on his strikeouts and he should end the year with a .274 avg., 25 HR, and 80 RBI’s. That could be enough for rookie of the year and should also be enough to help out his club.
Dan Uggla: Uggla’s struggles in the first half have been well documented. He has in fact earned himself the nickname, “Struggla”. Lately he’s been heating up and surprisingly leads the team in a couple of offensive categories. He leads the team in HR (15) and Runs Scored (43). His hustle on offense and defense has more than earned him Braves fans’ patience. There are lots of reasons for optimism in the second half for Uggla and the Braves. First off, he was so terrible on offense for most of the second half that there wasn’t much room to get worse so he had to get better. Second is his Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP). For most of the first half it hovered around .190. The league and team averages are usually around .300. At the All-Star break Uggla’s BABIP is .243. For comparison’s sake, Freeman’s BABIP is .360. If Uggla had a .360 BABIP his avg. would be .273 (good for 4th on the team). A higher BABIP means a player is hitting the ball hard making it difficult for fielders to field, but there is also a degree of luck. As the old adage goes, “hit it where they ain’t”. Uggla has been hitting the ball hard but hasn’t had much luck, so I would expect his BABIP to even out over the second half. If Uggla has another 300 AB’s and hits the league average of .300 BABIP and he continues his current strike out rate and ends the season with another 70 SO’s, then his avg. for the second half would be .230. That would raise his season avg. to .206, just above the Mendoza line. Uggla’s worst season avg. to date was in 2009 when he hit just .243. If Uggla were to match his worst season for the second half he would end the season batting .212. In order to match his season low from 2 years ago Uggla would have to bat .306 for the rest of the season. If he does that he could easily carry the Braves to a National League East title. I’m going to go ahead and predict that he will indeed do that and end the season with a .243 BA, 30 HR and 70 RBI’s.
Jason Heyward: The phenom from last year has quietly disappeared this year. That is partly due to injuries and partly due to just plain slumping. So far Jason is batting just .226 with 9 HR and 22 RBI’s. At that rate he would end the year with somewhere around 20 HR and 50 RBI’s. Certainly the Braves expect more from their young star, and if they hope to win it all this year then they will need more from him. I’m predicting a big second half from Heyward. He ends the year with a .240 avg., 25 HR and 70 RBI’s. Not a great season for him but considering his poor start, it would be a great ending.
Jair Jurrjens: Pitching has certainly been the Braves strong point this year and JJ is leading the pack. He is going to the All-Star game for the first time and it is well deserved. JJ leads the league in wins (12) and ERA (1.87). He is having a CY Young type year and I expect him to continue at his current clip. I predict he’ll end the season with 20 wins and an ERA of 2.05.
Tommy Hanson: Hanson has been another young arm leading the Braves this year. He was snubbed from the All-Star game but that should only give him more motivation to continue dominating hitters in the second half. Tommy has 10 wins and an ERA of 2.44. He leads the team in SO (109) and the league in Opposing team BA (.186). Hanson has gotten better with each start, so I predict he ends the year with 19 wins and 2.35 ERA.
O’Ventbrel: The Braves 3 headed relief monster of Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters, and Craig Kimbrel has been almost unstoppable. It has been arguably the best threesome in baseball this year. Hopefully the Braves offense can give them a little more rest in the second half to avoid overworking them. If the Braves expect them to continue performing at such a high level then the offense needs to score a lot more runs.
Overall the Braves are in great position to go to the playoffs. If they want to win the division they need to get better hitting to go along with their great pitching. I don’t expect them to make any trades as the keys to improvement are already in the organization. Martin Prado has been injured for most of the first half and he is arguably their best hitter. He will return Friday against the Nationals, so I don’t think the Braves will make a move for a right-handed batter. The other need they have is in the bullpen. As good as they have been they lack some depth. Peter Moylan and Kris Medlen are both expected to return before the end of the year and would be better than any other relief pitcher they could get on the market.
I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for my prediction for the team at the end of the year. 101-63 record, 1st place in the East and a World Series title. I’m either a Braves homer, or a bold predictor. Probably Both.