Atlanta Braves: 5 Keys to Success This Season
The Atlanta Braves have had a very up-and-down start this season.
After having issues with both hitting and pitching in the first week, the Braves seem to have turned themselves around.
They currently stand with a 12-7 record, at second place in the NL East behind the red-hot Washington Nationals.
Assuming the Nationals will eventually slow down, if the Braves continue to play this well, they could easily find themselves as champions of their division.
Here are the five keys that can lead the Braves to success this season.
Young Players Contributing/Potential Being Reached
If the Braves are to find success this season, it is extremely important that certain players reach their potential.
Mainly, this refers to Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman.
Both have huge potential, and were each runners-up for Rookie of the Year in their first major league season. Also, they are both in danger of doing terribly this season.
Heyward had a great rookie season in 2010, but last year, he experienced a huge sophomore slump. In his rookie year, he was extremely important to the team, and often got key hits in games, including many walk-offs.
So far this season, Heyward has done well, currently with a batting average of .306, two home runs, and eight RBI. He has gotten many important hits, and if he continues to do so, the Braves should do well.
Freeman had a great rookie year also, and so far, he is doing well in his sophomore year. He is hitting .275, with three HRs and 15 RBI.
He struggled at the very beginning of the season, which caused concern that he might slump, as Heyward did. However, he has recently been hitting very well, and this will be helpful to the Braves as the season continues.
It is also important that the Braves' young players contribute, mainly in the starting pitching staff.
Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, and Randall Delgado all have great potential, and with injuries and struggles in other areas, the contributions of these three pitchers could hugely impact the Braves' fortunes this year.
Also, Tyler Pastornicky, while he doesn't have as high expectations, could improve the team by a large amount this season.
The major downfall for the Braves last season, aside from their hitting struggles, was their injuries.
Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens were pitching incredibly for the first half of the season, until they both spent excessive time on the disabled list.
Their absences from the starting pitching staff were a large factor in the collapse of the Braves.
Also, Jason Heyward's shoulder injury contributed to the slump he experienced last year.
This season, the starting pitching staff still has injury concerns that could hinder the Braves' success. Tim Hudson has yet to return from the back surgery he had during the offseason, and the Braves are in need of an ace, especially with the struggles Jair Jurrjens has been experiencing.
The main injury concern for the Braves is Chipper Jones. When he plays, even if he does not contribute much, the Braves always seem to do much better.
Also, when he starts, Matt Diaz and Juan Francisco are put on the bench, which is usually helpful to the team.
If the Braves can keep their most important players healthy, they will be much more successful.
Old Trades Paying off
The Braves have sacrificed some great young players in order to get two players, who are both capable of carrying the team when they are at their best.
Dan Uggla has had a very interesting career with the Braves so far.
He strikes out often, and slumps for extended periods of time, but when he is hitting well, he can be awesome. This is displayed very clearly by the 2011 season, during which he hit .185 with 15 home runs before the All-Star break, and .296 with 21 home runs after the break.
Michael Bourn was acquired just before the trade deadline last year, in order to properly fill the leadoff hole for the Braves.
He has been successful so far, and his hitting has been very important to the Braves.
When he gets on base, his speed often allows him to score quickly, which is helpful when the Braves are struggling to get hits with RISP.
If these two players contribute as much as they have proven they are able, the Braves will win many more games.
The Braves have, arguably, the best bullpen in baseball.
Last year, however, their bullpen seemed to have run out of gas by the end of the season, which caused crucial runs to be given up, and important games to be lost.
Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty are possibly the best combination of relievers in any bullpen, although by the end of last season, they were very overworked.
It is important that these three relievers especially aren't given too many innings, because if they become injured, the Braves will struggle.
This year, the Braves' starting pitching staff consists of mainly very young players, who don't often go more than six innings.
This makes the bullpen all the more important, and with one of their best relievers, Arodys Vizcaino, out for the season, the rest of the relievers must stay consistent.
The additions of Chad Durbin and Livan Hernandez, although they are not extremely impressive pitchers, are helpful to eat innings when pitchers are pulled early from the game.
Hitting with RISP
Last season, the Braves were terrible at hitting with runners in scoring position.
During the first week of this season, they continued these struggles, which led to one of the worst starts they have ever had.
After the Braves' painful first week, however, they have shown their abilities to score tons of runs. This happened especially during their five-game win streak beginning April 17, during which they scored a total of 45 runs.
They have since come to sit at the very top of the National League for amount of runs scored.
The Philadelphia Phillies have so far this season been a good example of what happens to a team with great pitching, but little hitting. Because the Braves' pitching isn't as dominant as the Phillies', it is even more important for the Braves to score lots of runs.
The Braves' best hitting occurs when Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward are at top form, and when Michael Bourn gets on base often.
If the Braves are able to continue their impressive hitting, they will have a very good chance of winning the NL East.