The Atlanta Braves (45-34) have played up and down baseball in the first half of the 2013 season—the high being a 10-game winning streak in April and the low being a stretch of seven losses in nine games in April and May.
While it has not always looked pretty, the Braves still sit in good position with a 5.5 game lead over the Washington Nationals in the National League East.
We've seen encouraging surprises as well as major disappointments for the first half of the season.
For the players who have disappointed, the second half offers a fresh start along with the chance to produce when the games matter most.
So who will impress and who will disappoint as we hit the midway point of this 2013 season?
Gerald Laird: The veteran catcher has been exactly what the Braves hoped to be getting in Laird. He offers a steady influence as a game-manager behind the plate to a young rotation while providing a reliable bat (.283 average and .368 on-base percentage). That .368 OBP would be a career high if he can maintain it throughout the season. For a streaky team, Laird will provide consistent play in the second half. I'd expect him to get 15-20 starts behind the plate to help keep all catchers fresh for the final months.
Brian McCann: McCann will finish this season with the Braves despite speculation from fans that the team could move him at the trade deadline due to his upcoming free agency. It's much more valuable for the Braves to hang onto McCann through a postseason run rather than to make a move and roll the dice on rookie Evan Gattis. McCann has been decent but unspectacular to this point. Look for big things from him in July where he's a career .293 hitter and has 40 home runs—most of any month. He shouldn't suffer from a poor September as in previous years, as he's only played in 39 games this season. I'd look for McCann to elevate his average to .260 and have his sixth consecutive season hitting 20 or more home runs by the end of the season.
*Evan Gattis: Gattis provided some of the most exciting moments of the first half of the season with multiple clutch home runs. He ranks second on the team with 14 home runs despite having 107 less at-bats than team leader Justin Upton. How will Gattis return from his current oblique injury? Rookies also tend to hit somewhat of a wall over the course of a long season. However, Gattis has continued to defy logic throughout his life and a 25 home run season does not look to be too tall of a task for "El Oso Blanco." Gattis should receive strong consideration for National League Rookie of the Year.
Freddie Freeman: It's becoming more and more clear that Freeman is the most talented hitter on this Braves team. He leads the team with 48 RBI even after missing two weeks with an oblique injury. I'd expect Freeman to continue to drive in runs at a rapid pace on a team that ranks second in the National League with 279 walks. In the end, I envision this being the first year Freeman cracks the 100 RBI season. He likely won't walk enough to earn a Silver Slugger Award but should be close to the top.
Paul Janish: The disappointing news of season-ending surgery for infielder Ramiro Pena has led to the return of defensive specialist Paul Janish. He makes his return to Atlanta around the same time he did in 2012 when he stuck around the entire year. I'd expect Janish to hang around this time as well due to his exceptional defense. At the plate, don't look for much more than a .200 average.
Chris Johnson: Johnson has the third base job all to himself with the departure of Juan Francisco. He has more than held his own at the plate with a .322 average and .832 OPS but has been shaky at third base with six errors. Johnson has proven to be a capable hitter in his young career (.283). However, with more at-bats against right-handed pitching, Johnson's average will dip in the second half and finish around .300. He will also likely make fans curse at least one game with a costly error that proves to be the deciding factor.
Tyler Pastornicky: The young shortstop has been up and down from the minors all season and don't expect much to change. Pastornicky's defense is not up to par with his offense, which will give Janish the edge in maintaining a roster spot when everyone is healthy. Pastornicky will be with the Braves for an extended period of time in September, and I'd expect him to hit around .250 due to the lack of consistent at-bats.
Andrelton Simmons: Simmons has done a solid job at the plate this season despite being shuffled up and down the lineup as much as anyone. His .243 average is about what to expect from Simmons at this point in his career. To elevate that, he'll need to learn the strike zone better and not be such a free swinger. In the field, Simmons should win a Gold Glove. He ranks eighth among shortstops with a .984 fielding percentage. However, he is second with a 5.0 range factor and first in defensive WAR with a 2.8 rating. The next closest shortstop has a 1.4 dWAR. By the end of the season, Simmons will be deserving of the award.
Dan Uggla: Uggla is one of the more predictable players on the Braves' roster. He hits for a low average, strikes out a lot, hits about 30 home runs and scores about 90 runs each season while playing in more than 150 games. At the end of the season, I expect Uggla will be around 30 home runs with a .340 OBP and170 strikeouts. August has traditionally been his best month so expect much of his production to come during that span. Also, look for Uggla to lead the team in errors at the end of the year.
Jason Heyward: Much was expected from Heyward entering the 2013 season as the unofficial face of the franchise. The season didn't get off to how he or fans had hoped with an emergency appendectomy that sidelined him for almost a month and a .146 average at the end of May. However, Heyward has found his stride in June, hitting .295 with a .829 OPS. Heyward will maintain a high on-base percentage all season, and by the end of the season he will have a .260-.270 average with 15-20 home runs.
Reed Johnson: Johnson has appeared in 46 games this season, 12 of which he started and is hitting .239 for the season. With the emergence of Jordan Schafer and a durable outfield, I'd look for about 10 starts in the second half of the season for Johnson. His biggest role will be maximizing pinch-hit and pinch-run opportunities late in games.
Jordan Schafer: Schafer has arguably been the most pleasant surprise in the first half of this season. In 26 starts, he is hitting .320 with a .421 OBP. The fact that he can play all three outfield positions while adding a dimension to the lineup as a true leadoff hitter leads me to believe he will see plenty of playing time—possibly as many as 30 starts depending on health. He looks poised to maintain a .300 season and could be in the conversation for starting in the playoffs if the Braves make it.
B.J. Upton: From one of the biggest surprises to one of the biggest disappointments, B.J. Upton has not lived up to the potential that the Braves hoped he would reach when they signed him to the biggest contract in franchise history this offseason. The good news is that he has shown signs of progress in June—hitting .234 and a much better .344 OBP. Upton will need a torrid streak to get his average to a respectable level or reach 20 home runs. Upton shouldn't concentrate on those numbers as much as his six stolen bases on the season. It's embarrassing for him to have such a ridiculously low number of stolen bases. He should shoot for 20 stolen bases by the end of the season. I don't think Upton has that torrid streak in him, and he'll fall short of a 20-20 season.
Justin Upton: The outfielder roared out of the gates and looked poised for an MVP season with 12 home runs, 1.136 OPS and a .298 average in April. Since then, Upton has cooled dramatically with 15 home runs and a .241 average. While Upton is most likely not a MVP candidate anymore, he still should hit 30-35 home runs with about 80 RBIs. Upton has historically hit for a higher average in the second half of the season, and it feels like he has another hot power surge in him this season.
*Brandon Beachy: The anticipated return of Brandon Beachy was put on hold after some discomfort following what was scheduled to be his last rehab start. The Braves would love to have him pitch in July in order to have some flexibility with potential moves before the July 31 trade deadline. However, it looks unlikely Beachy will be able to return before the All-Star break, which will make things difficult. These situations do tend to work themselves out, and Beachy still should get 8-10 starts in 2013. I wouldn't expect his command to be as sharp as he was in 2012 but maintaining a 4.00 ERA and eating innings is not out of the question.
Tim Hudson: Even though his record doesn't reflect it, Hudson deserves a lot of credit for pitching extremely effective in June (1.82 ERA) after a mediocre April (3.86) and disastrous May (7.33). Hudson has been most effective in his successful career during the summer months when his sinker features more movement, which leads me to believe Hudson will have his ERA under 4.00 by the end of the season. That would be a great season for a soon-to-be 38-year-old pitcher after a tough start. He also has extra motivation if he wants to pitch with the Braves in 2014.
Paul Maholm: The most uncertainty surrounding a pitcher in the rotation is Paul Maholm. He could be a potential trade chip with Beachy set to return and him being a free agent at the conclusion of this season. However, Maholm has proven to be a consistent innings eater over the past few seasons, and I doubt the Braves will see enough of Beachy to pull the trigger on a trade. While not dominant, Maholm is steady and should pitch more than 175 innings again in 2013. I also expect this will be his first 15-win season with the motivation to maintain his spot with the Braves and pitching in a contract year.
Kris Medlen: Medlen has not had the same luck he had to finish 2012. Despite a 3.02 ERA, he has not received great run support and has just a 5-7 record on the season. In another possible twist with Beachy returning to the rotation, Medlen's name has been mentioned as someone to provide depth in the bullpen. However, he made it clear he had no intentions of going back, and I believe he will be proving throughout the second half of the season he belongs in the rotation. I'm a big believer in Medlen's ability as a starter and see him finishing this season with an ERA below 3.00 and in the top ten in the National League. Come playoff time, I think he's the guy the Braves would have on the hill in game one.
Mike Minor: The 25-year-old has carried over his successful end to the 2012 season into 2013 with a 8-3 record and 2.98 ERA. He has been the best pitcher for the Braves this season and should be awarded with an All-Star appearance. His past three starts have not been nearly as dominant as he's allowed three earned runs or more in each start. He will benefit from the All-Star break, but I do think he'll come down to earth in the second half of the season and finish with an ERA about 3.25. Nevertheless, that should be good enough to get 15 wins and be a complete season.
Julio Teheran: After some humbling starts to begin the season, Teheran has put together some dazzling performances and shown what made him such a highly touted prospect. With some potential pitching depth, I think the Braves will manage Teheran's innings throughout the second half of the season with a disabled-list stint. This will prevent overworking the 22-year-old with a bright future and hopefully control him from hitting that rookie wall that many young pitchers inevitably hit.
Luis Avilan: Despite injuries to the bullpen, Avilan's impressive pitching has helped maintain the league's top bullpen. The left-hander has a 1.69 ERA and 12 holds in 32 innings this season. I think Avilan will see a slightly reduced role in the second half of the season. The Braves will likely add depth to the bullpen at the trade deadline, which will allow Avilan to work more in situational roles to help limit his innings. Still, Avilan features excellent stuff and will excel in any role he is asked to carry out.
*Luis Ayala: The right-hander was placed on the disabled list on April 30 with an anxiety disorder and is currently pitching for Triple-A Gwinnett. It will be interesting to see if he makes it back to Atlanta in 2013, as he could be a valuable pitcher for the team. It will likely depend on the health of the rest of the bullpen if he pitches in Atlanta.
David Carpenter: Carpenter features a lively arm but not a lot of movement and a lack of command. Overall, he has been pretty good in limited action but has yet to see meaningful innings. He will likely relinquish the long relief role to Cristhian Martinez in the end.
Cory Gearrin: Gearrin has already set a career high by appearing in 36 games so far in 2013, which could affect him in the second half of the season. While Gearrin has been effective this season (3.30), he showed some weakness when he gained more responsibility. Still, he will have value in the bullpen in the middle innings and situations that call for a right-hand specialist.
Craig Kimbrel: Kimbrel is continuing to prove to be one of the most dominant closers in the game. Kimbrel has a 1.53 ERA and is second in the National League with 22 saves. He hasn't blown a save since May 7 against the Cincinnati Reds. Kimbrel will likely not have a historic season as he did in 2012, but I do think he'll finish the year with the most saves in the National League and will blow just one more save in 2013. He currently trails Jason Grilli of the Pittsburgh Pirates who has 26 saves.
*Cristhian Martinez: The Braves placed Martinez on the disabled list in mid-April with a shoulder injury, and he is currently on a rehab assignment in Mississippi. I think Martinez will make it back to Atlanta at some point in 2013 and regain the role of long-reliever—something he has had success with in the past few seasons.
Anthony Varvaro: Varvaro has also set a career high with 31 appearances in 2013. Manager Fredi Gonzalez has rewarded Varvaro for his good pitching (3.08) with an increased role out of the bullpen. Varvaro has appeared in the seventh inning or later in every game he's pitched in June and has posted three holds during that time. He has yet to put together a complete season at the MLB level, so expect a drop-off in effectiveness as the year grows on and the games get more important.
Jordan Walden: Walden has stepped up in the absence of Eric O'Flaherty to take over the set-up role for the Braves. In June, he has allowed no runs and just two hits in 10.2 innings while striking out nine batters to two walks. Walden has not been affected by the pressure of the eighth inning as he has past closer experience. However, his unorthodox delivery leads me to believe he'll go through a period of inconsistency in the second half with more possible arm issues.
Alex Wood: One of the Braves' brightest pitching prospects was forced into the bullpen due to injuries, and the young, left-hander has held his own. However, Wood projects to be a starter long-term and needs to go back to the minors to continues his development. At some point in July, expect him to be sent back to the minors to make room for another bullpen arm and be back in Atlanta as a September call-up when the rosters expand.