All five teams in the division are as close as any division in baseball. The Washington Nationals sit just half a game behind the Braves with a much better run differential and a highly awaited return of Bryce Harper coming tonight.
Also, just two weeks away from the 2014 MLB All-Star Game, Atlanta doesn't have many stars to hang its hat on. In fact, there are really only five players who even have a case to be all-stars this season—a surprising total for a first-place club.
Part of the reason for the low total of potential all-stars is that Atlanta has been carried by its pitching.
Overall, the offense has been horrid for much of the year. Jason Heyward has been far from what many expected of him at the plate. The same can be said for Andrelton Simmons and Chris Johnson. In regards to Heyward and, especially, Simmons, defense is rarely ever rewarded with all-star votes—meaning these guys have little shot at making the NL club.
The team has done superb on the pitching side thanks to a long line of starters and relievers. Players have been called up from the minors, the rotation has seen a slew of arms pass through already and it's not even July 1.
With that depth, though, not many specific players have stood out as all-star worthy on the mound either—especially considering the back-to-earth slides for Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana and the low innings totals from some of the middle men.
Here are the Braves' top five (and only five) players deserving of making the 2014 All-Star team.
1. Julio Teheran
Teheran may be the best pitcher in the NL if not for the career-year put together by Johnny Cueto of the Reds. A 7-5 record does little to explain how well Teheran has thrown the ball this season. His 0.88 quality-start percentage is tied for first in the league among qualified pitchers. His ERA, WHIP and opponent batting average all rank in the top five of the NL as well.
He probably doesn't deserve to start the game over Cueto or Adam Wainwright, but Teheran is a lock to make the squad.
2. Evan Gattis
At the catcher position, Evan Gattis also seems like a lock to make the NL team, and he, like Teheran, should not be the starter. That distinction belongs to Jonathan Lucroy. However, Gattis has been stellar this season. Even though he doesn't currently qualify for the batting title, he has been the second-best catcher in the NL because of his consistency over Cincinnati's Devin Mesoraco.
Gattis' .900 OPS far out-paces the fourth-ranked catcher (Koyie Hill) on that list. He, Mesoraco and Lucroy have demolished their positional competition this season. This would be more of a discussion if Mesoraco had more than 166 at-bats, but Gattis should be the team's second catcher.
3. Freddie Freeman
Earlier in the year, Freddie Freeman was hitting like Babe Ruth in his prime. Since then, the Braves first baseman has cooled, but he still deserves an NL reserve spot in the All-Star Game.
First base is talented this year. Paul Goldschmidt is probably the NL's best—considering his running ability, defense and slight power edge over Freeman and Chicago's Anthony Rizzo. But there is no denying this team needs room for all three.
If Adam LaRoche hadn't had another DL spell this year and tabbed more than his 224 at-bats, there could be a real discussion for the third NL first baseman. As it stands though, LaRoche may be on the outside looking in.
4. Craig Kimbrel
The best closer in the NL has, surprisingly, been Milwaukee's Francisco Rodriguez. He wasn't even the team's closer to start the year but has been fantastic since obtaining the job. After him, though, the argument for second best comes down to Kimbrel and Huston Street.
They both will make the club, so the argument may be futile. Kimbrel has a huge edge in strikeouts—making him the popular pick. However, Street has one of the best WHIPs in the game and is much better at limiting walks. Street is also a perfect 21-for-21 is save chances while Kimbrel has blown four. I'd rather have Street this season, but both are deserving All-Stars.
5. Justin Upton
While the case for Atlanta's top-four all-star hopefuls is rock solid, the same cannot be said of Justin Upton. He is standing on the shakiest ground when it comes to making the roster. Playing in his favor, though, is his name.
Upton is a known commodity—something that often comes into consideration when fans and even managers pick all-stars.
For some reason, the national league outfield has been filled with surprise performers this season. Players such as Charlie Blackmon, Seth Smith, Marcell Ozuna and Billy Hamilton have been great but lack the name recognition of a Justin Upton.
Upton, let's clarify, has no claim to a starting spot in the NL outfield. Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen, Yasiel Puig and Carlos Gomez are all comfortably ahead of him. However, Upton has a case to be made for this next group.
He is sixth in the league in OPS—trailing just those four men and Smith. He is second in home runs—trailing just Stanton. Of course, he falls down the list in terms of WAR because of his shoddy defense and limited baserunning. It also doesn't help that he already has 88 strikeouts this year and only 28 walks.
I think Upton makes it, but it'll be close, giving Atlanta five well-deserving all-stars for the 2014 game.
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