With the Atlanta Braves sitting in first place after an up-and-down first half of the season, it is now time to look ahead to the second half of the season. There are many storylines to follow, from the fight to win their first NL East crown since 2005, to the return of Brandon Beachy to what moves the front office will make at the trading deadline.
This article will make 10 predictions for the Braves during the second half of this season. Some of these predictions are very bold, but this is a team with real potential considering they sit in first place, despite dealing with a bunch of rough spots they had to work through in the first half.
This may not be my boldest prediction, considering the Braves are sitting on a six-game lead over the Washington Nationals on July 1. However, the Braves young team still needs to go out and keep winning to keep their lead on an extremely talented Washington club.
I firmly believe that this Braves' team is the one to end the drought of NL East titles. This team is very talented itself and built a six-game lead, despite dealing with injuries to significant players and major slumps by their entire outfield.
Some may look at this prediction and think that I was being too conservative, but I think this is an aggressive prediction. Following a setback earlier this month, Brandon Beachy was shut down and still needs to head out on a rehab assignment to build up arm strength and figure some things out against live hitters before he returns to the Braves.
That means that Beachy may not be back until shortly before the end of July if the Braves give him two or three starts in the minors. Then he still has to deal with the fact that he will have some ups and downs when he initially gets back, just as almost every other pitcher who undergoes Tommy John surgery does.
My prediction for Beachy is calling for him to win five games between mostly just August and September. To take it a bit further, I see limitations on innings and struggles getting adjusted causing him to start off a bit slow before he picks things up down the stretch and finishes strong.
As of today Jason Heyward is hitting .231 with six homers and 17 RBI to go with an OPS of .702. On the surface those are some very pedestrian numbers, but they don't tell the whole story. Heyward started the year in an awful slump before having his appendix taken out.
Since his return, Heyward has figured things out. In June, he hit .312 with four homers and nine RBI to go with an OPS of .865. He's looked the part of one of the most talented players in the game since coming off the disabled list as he has started to turn his season around.
I think Heyward will finish the next three months with strong numbers, and combined with his early numbers, his final totals will be pretty solid. I am expecting him to hit somewhere near .275 with 20 homers and 55 RBI—numbers that would be lower than expected this spring but better than expected after his terrible April.
It's well-known that the Braves are expected to pursue bullpen help at the trading deadline. Losing both Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty for the season has really put a hole in the bullpen in terms of both talent and depth. Sure, guys like Jordan Walden, Luis Avilan and David Carpenter have really stepped up, but the Braves can use another veteran for their playoff push.
According to MLB.com's Mark Bowman, the Braves are expected to pursue Kevin Gregg from the Chicago Cubs. Gregg has pitched extremely well since taking over as closer for the Cubs this year, going 2-1 with 13 saves and a 1.65 ERA in 28 games and is posting a career-best 0.99 WHIP.
I predict the Braves will trade for Gregg for a pair of reasons. The first is because he is a veteran in the middle of a very strong season. The other reason I see the Braves going after him is that he would be relatively cheap, both in terms of salary and what he would cost in a trade.
Gregg wouldn't close for the Braves, but for a fairly young bullpen, it is important to add a guy in his 11th big league season who has some postseason experience. He also has 157 career saves, which would allow Fredi Gonzalez the ability to rest Craig Kimbrel if needed in a save situation.
Part of what got B.J. Upton a big contract with the Braves last winter is the way he hit down the stretch for the Tampa Bay Rays last year. Upton started the season slowly last year, but hit seven homers in August followed by 12 in September as he batted in 40 runs during that time to go with 12 steals.
Upton has also started this season slowly, but I think he will again come alive in September. This prediction is based on what he did last year and the fact he has a history for performing at a high level down the stretch in his career.
In the first half of the season, Dan Uggla hit .205 with 14 homers. He's fallen far from the player we saw with the Miami Marlins, but he is still a dangerous power threat. The good news is that although he leads with league with 102 strikeouts, he has gotten better in each month after a terrible April.
I predict Uggla reaches the 30-homer mark on the season, posting an average around .220 and close to 70 RBI. It may not be an exciting line, but as a power bat at the bottom of the order, he is a nice asset.
After a trio of disappointing starts to begin the season, many started to sour on Julio Teheran ever reaching his ceiling as a top of the rotation arm. However, since that point in the season Teheran has been among the best young pitchers in the game.
Teheran is currently 6-4 with a 3.12 ERA in 15 starts, but has pitched to a 2.27 ERA in his 12 most recent starts. He's been especially impressive in June, posting a 1.95 ERA in five starts.
If Teheran keeps pitching like this, he could potentially reach the 15-win mark this season and compete for the National League Rookie of the Year.
After a hot start to his season, Justin Upton has really cooled off in a big way during May and June. His overall numbers say he is hitting .245 with 15 homers and 37 RBI, but he hit .298 with 12 homers and 19 RBI in April.
Upton is simply too talented to remain in this slump, and I see him having a very solid finish to the season. If we see a mix of the good Upton and bad Upton of the first half, it's entirely possible he ends up hitting .265 with 35 homers and 90 RBI.
Tim Hudson has struggled a little in the first half of the season. Sure, he is 4-7 with a 4.22 ERA in 17 starts, but he was hit very hard in May and hasn't won a game since May 5. Hudson is 37 years old, so a decline wouldn't be a surprise, but the way he has pitched in April and June have been solid.
Hudson is a great competitor and will use his struggles to improve. I can picture him pitching like a veteran leader for a fairly young pitching staff. That means I could see him finishing the year going 12-12 with a 3.50 ERA.
The first-place Braves have an impressive collection of talent. It's even more impressive with guys like Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty, Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis hitting the disabled list and Brandon Beachy not yet appearing this season. That doesn't even mention the slumps of half of the lineup.
Still, I think this Braves team is as good as any other one in baseball and has what it takes to win a World Series.
The rotation with Kris Medlen, Tim Hudson, Julio Teheran, Mike Minor and Paul Maholm has been very strong, and they are about to add Brandon Beachy back. The bullpen also has some very good pitchers and will likely add at least one more before the trading deadline.
If the offense gets on track, this team could be the best in the game, as every starter has proven that they are a more than capable hitter at the big league level. Then there's the bench featuring guys like Evan Gattis and Jordan Schafer. As long as the outfield gets on track, things should be much smoother on offense in the second half.