The Atlanta Braves have been a frustrating team to watch during the first half of this season. Most of that frustration stems from the offensive struggles this team has experienced over the last three months. Despite a lackluster offense, the Braves currently lead the Wild Card with a 54-38 record, which is fourth-best in the major leagues, and have won 15 of their last 20 games.
It is readily apparent that the Braves’ strong pitching staff is the reason for their success. The Braves’ team ERA of 3.11 is second in the majors behind only the Phillies, while their bullpen leads almost every major statistical category.
Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens have had Cy Young caliber seasons so far. Jurrjens currently holds a 12-3 record with a 1.87 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. Hanson, who was probably the biggest All Star snub this season, has a 10-4 record with a 2.44 ERA and is holding opposing batters to an absurd .190 average.
Brandon Beachy has been one of the biggest surprises of the year. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009, he burst onto the scene last season in the minors. He is showing that his minor league success was no fluke as he currently holds a 3-1 record with a 3.21 ERA and is striking out 10.43 batters per nine innings. Tim Hudson is also having another solid season, posting an 8-6 record with a 3.57 ERA.
Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, and Eric O’Flaherty have solidified the back end of the bullpen. There was some concern giving the 8th and 9th inning duties to Venters and Kimbrel, but the young guns responded by garnering their first All Star selections. The one concern going into the second half of the season is their workload. All three relievers have been used very heavily, and their usage will need to be monitored to keep them fresh for the stretch run.
The offense, on the other hand, has not experienced the same kind of success. They are currently ranked 26th (out of 30) in team batting average and on-base percentage. Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward were expected to provide some power and consistency to the lineup, but they have been the main culprits in the struggling offense. Uggla has provided power, but his .185 average is abysmal. Heyward missed some time with a shoulder injury, and he has been a disappointment with a .226 average and only nine homers.
However, Brian McCann has truly put this offense on his back. With a .310 average, 15 homers, and 50 RBIs, he is putting himself into the MVP discussion. He finally seems to be getting the recognition he deserves as he was voted the starting catcher at the All Star game for the first time.
Despite a staph infection that landed him on the disabled list, Martin Prado has had a solid year. He hasn’t quite performed up to last year’s standard, but he is far from the problem with a .277 average and eight home runs. Freddie Freeman has turned in an excellent rookie season so far with a .274 average and 13 homers. His strikeouts are somewhat of a concern, but that’s to be expected with a 21-year-old rookie.
Lastly, Chipper Jones has had a subpar season by his standards. His .259 average is a little misleading, however. He has reached base at a good clip and has been a clutch hitter, recording 46 RBIs (second only to McCann). He should return in August after arthroscopic surgery on his knee.
Even though the offense has been so inconsistent, the Braves would be a playoff team if the season ended today. Uggla and Heyward will likely rebound with a strong second half, and the Braves will probably try to add a complementary piece or two by the trade deadline. No matter what happens, it should be an exciting second half.
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