Atlanta Braves' Biggest Winners and Losers in the First Half of the Season
As we approach the halfway point in the 2013 season, now is a good time to reflect on what the Braves have done. The first half has seen injuries to some key players and struggles for half of the lineup, yet the Braves sit in first place with a decent lead over the Washington Nationals.
This article takes a look at some of the biggest winners and losers based on what we've seen in the first half of the season.
Winner: Jordan Schafer
Jordan Schafer came into this spring training as a guy competing for a fifth outfield spot with Jose Constanza. He looked good in spring training and won one of the final spots on the roster, partly because he was out of minor league options. He looked far from the guy that came up with the Braves as a top prospect in 2009.
Schafer has taken full advantage of his opportunity and has hit .317 with an OPS of .881. He's been looking like a totally different player than what we have seen anywhere else in his big league career and for the first time, looks like that former top prospect.
Losers: The Starting Outfield
The talk of spring training in the South was the outfield the Braves put together. Frank Wren spent this past winter putting together the most talented outfield in the game on paper with a pair of young MVP candidates in the corner outfield spots and a talented, proven veteran in center to replace Michael Bourn.
When the season started, we saw that this outfield may have been receiving a little too much hype. B.J. Upton has been stuck in the worst slump of his career, hitting just .177 with a .587 OPS. He's struggled to the point where his backup, Jordan Schafer, is actually looking like the much better player right now.
B.J.'s brother, Justin Upton, got off to a hot start when he hit .298 with 12 homers in the month of April. Since then Justin just looks lost, as he hit .211 in May and is hitting just .208 in June and only has three homers since April.
Jason Heyward has started to hit recently, but his slow start to the season means he is still hitting just .216 on the year with a .674 OPS.
This group is loaded with talent, but other than April for Justin Upton and June for Heyward, all of these guys have looked lost at the plate. The Braves have built up a five-game lead over Washington, but it makes you wonder what that lead could be if these guys were consistently producing.
Winner: Evan Gattis
The best story in baseball this spring has been Evan Gattis. The former janitor and ski lift operator who had some personal issues in his past has become one of the most feared power hitters in baseball despite the fact that he is just a rookie and doesn't have a full-time job right now.
Gattis has hit .252 with 14 homers in just 163 at-bats, and his emergence has really given the Braves a huge boost, especially while Brian McCann was out in April.
Loser: Brian McCann
Brian McCann is hitting .240 with eight homers and 21 RBI in just 39 games due to missing almost all of April while recovering from shoulder surgery. Yet he finds his way on the list of biggest losers because his absence has helped to make him expendable.
McCann is a talented player but one about to get a big raise as a free agent this winter. The Braves can afford to re-sign him, but with an injury last year and the emergence of Evan Gattis, the team may decide to go with the younger and cheaper option in order to use that cash elsewhere.
Winner: Jordan Walden
When the Braves dealt Tommy Hanson away this winter to get Jordan Walden, many fans weren't happy with the move. Those fans hated to see the team deal away a guy once thought to be the anchor of the rotation and only acquire a reliever, especially when the Braves had a bunch of potential All-Stars in their bullpen.
Walden has been a key reliever, going 2-1 with a 2.59 ERA in 25 games this year while Hanson has struggled with the Angels. This and the fact that the Braves bullpen has seen Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty go down for the season has helped to erase any doubts fans had with Walden's acquisition.
While the bullpen hasn't been terrible this year, the group just isn't what it was headed into the season. The Braves had expected to have one of the best bullpens in the game, but season-ending injuries to Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty have weakened a very talented and deep group. Then there have been injuries to others like Luis Ayala and Cristhian Martinez, which have only made it a bigger challenge to find the right group of guys.
The Braves have gotten guys like Jordan Walden and Luis Avilan to step up into the setup roles, and guys like Anthony Varvaro, Alex Wood, David Carpenter and Cory Gearrin have all really stepped up, but none of these guys is the type of proven veteran that Fredi Gonzalez would like to turn to.
Winner: Julio Teheran
Julio Teheran is 5-4 with a 3.32 ERA on the year, but those numbers don't tell the whole story of his season. After a dominant spring training, Teheran struggled out of the gate, racking up a 7.31 ERA in his first three starts of the year.
Since then Teheran has only allowed more than three runs once in his next 11 starts and posting a 2.45 ERA since his third start. He has been excellent in that time, pitching scoreless baseball twice and allowing just one run three more times, including a near no-hitter against the Pirates.
It's safe to say that Teheran has managed to establish himself as one of the best young pitchers in the game, even though guys like Matt Harvey and Shelby Miller are getting more attention.