As the Braves head into the All-Star Break, they sit 16 games over .500 at 54-38, good for the 4th best record in Major League Baseball, right up there with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Unfortunately, the one team ahead of them is the Philadelphia Phillies who are 3.5 games ahead.
While the Braves couldn't gain ground on the Phillies, in losing 2 of 3 this weekend, it's realistic to say having the second best record in the NL and leading the wild card by four-plus games isn't a bad way to finish the first half of the season. Let's take a look and grade the key players based on their first half performances.
Despite missing the first two weeks of the season, Jurrjens has been arguably the best pitcher in the majors this year, leading all MLB pitchers with a 12-3 record and a sparkling 1.87 ERA. Considering the injury question marks he had coming into the season, if the worst thing we can say about him is he'll regress a little and we wish he would strike out a few more hitters, he's doing just fine
McCann leads all MLB catchers in batting average, homeruns and RBIs, and handles one of the two or three best pitching staffs in all of baseball. His "day off" against Houston was unique. He was deserving of being the NL All-Star starting catcher.
Mr. Kentucky Blue Gas had a hiccup in San Diego, mostly due to his defense. That being said, he's widely considered one of the best relievers in baseball despite not being the closer. He's 4-1 with a 1.52 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP while striking out more than a batter per inning. Hiccup aside, he's deserving of his All-Star nod.
Was anyone really surprised when David Ross crushed that Grand Slam last weekend against Baltimore? Despite limited playing time, Ross has shown why the Braves rewarded him with a contract extension. He's a great clubhouse guy, teammate and has produced a lot, but knowing that he's backing up the best catcher in the NL. .302 with 4 HR and 14 RBI in just 63 at-bats is just ridiculous. He's got the highest slugging percentage of anyone on the team right now (.524), which is just ahead of McCann's .516.
Sure, he has five blown saves. Every closer blows a few, and considering he's a rookie, we knew he'd have a few bumps in the road.
That said , all the 23-year-old rookie has done is compile 27 saves (tops in MLB) and strike out 70 batters in 45 IP (tops of all MLB relievers) with a 2.40 ERA. Most projections had him at 27 saves for the entire season. He's currently on pace to shatter Neftali Feliz's rookie saves record of 40. He might have that many before rosters expand. If Jose Bautista says you're tough to face, that's about as great of a compliment as you can get.
Freeman may not have Heyward's speed, throwing arm, power or upside, but he's proven to be extremely consistent over the last two months. He's proving that his .318/18/87 numbers in AAA in 2010 were no fluke. He's hitting .276 with 13HR and 42 RBI with a .354/.472/.826 line. He's been red hot lately, but seeing him finish the season with an average above .280 about 25 HR and 80 RBI would delight any Braves fan.
Big Red stumbled his first few starts, but has been quietly one of the best pitchers in MLB this season. Despite missing a few starts, he's still 10-4 with a 2.52 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, .192 BAA and already 103 K in just 96 innings. He's the third Cy Young contender the Braves have on the staff and a huge reason why they're still rolling as the All-Star Break nears. He was, along with Kimbrel and Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates, in the group of biggest NL All-Star snubs.
Quick: Who has the best ERA on the Braves' staff?
It's Eric O'Flaherty with a 1.13 ERA. His back barks at him once in a while, but like that game in Philadelphia where he struck out the side with runners on first and second in a 3-0 game, he's very, very good.
Beachy has surpassed expectations of what people thought he'd do in the majors as a pitcher. He's had some hard luck, and the oblique injury took a big chunk out of what's been a pretty good season for him. His 3.23 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, .221 BAA and 72 K in 61.1 IP probably deserves better than a 3-1 record, but if he keeps it up, he'll get the wins.
Prado's staph infection came at a bad time, but when he does return, he'll be rejoining a Braves lineup that's been hitting better and winning a lot of ballgames. He's made a seamless transition to LF while spelling Chipper at third base on occasion. I hope when he returns that Chipper will get the surgery on his knee and Prado can play there until Jones returns. He's already missed a month but still has a .277 BA, 8 HR and 33 RBI. The Braves want his bat back in the lineup because he's usually very consistent, and pretty damn good.
His average is down, and so is his defensive range, but I'd attribute that more to the one knee he's been playing on most of the season. I really think he should get the meniscus fixed, take three weeks off to rest, and recharge himself and be healthy for the final two months. He's still clutch (second highest percentage of potential runners driven in, in all of MLB), and when his dad's around, shows that he can still be a phenomenal hitter. Heyward-like splits from 2010 would be reasonable if Chipper's healthy (.277-18-72).
(Update: Thanks for getting the surgery, Chipper. See you around July 31st)
His stats don't jump out at you, and he looks like an NFL lineman chasing a running back down the field when he runs, but the 8 HR and 21 RBI he's provided in part-time duty has been vital to more than a few games the Braves have wound up winning.
After a dismal fielding postseason, Brooks Conrad has returned to what he does best—hit pinch-hit homers. He's hit three of them this year, and the Braves won all three—one in extras, and one sent the game to extras after his homerun tied it against the Mets. When he has played the field, it hasn't been as abysmal as the division series. He still strikes out a ton, though.
Hudson has not had what he would probably call a great first half. He heads into the break with a respectable 8-6 record with a 3.57 ERA and WHIP of 1.15, and opponents hitting .233 off him. He's been fantastic at times (TOR, MIL) and struggled mightily in other games (NYM, LAA). With a little more consistency, he could still reach 16 wins with an ERA of closer to three than it is now. Even Huddy would say he's a bit disappointed in his first half.
Inconsistency has been Schafer's biggest problem this year. He's got the ability to hit (4-for-5 and a 5-for-6 game to his credit), and he's demonstrated some of that. Since taking the bunt off his face, he's not drawing as many walks, but his value to the team isn't that of high BA or SLG. For him, it's defense, OBP and runs scored. When he's getting on-base, he's scoring runs—at a rate of 0.67 per game, the highest on the team by far. He's also stolen 11 of the team's 29 bases despite only playing in 39 games. His range in center with a plus arm will keep him in the majors if he can hit and get on base a bit more. He can hit .250 or .260 if his OBP is in the .340+ range. Prado's return to the lineup will do him a huge benefit.
Gonzalez has been remarkable most times in the field, while being extremely inconsistent and impatient with the bat. That .351 SLG with .618OPS is not pretty at all, but he's helped make Dan Uggla a decent fielding second basemen, so that has to count for something.
Quick: Which Brave has the lowest K/BB ratio?
It's Nate McLouth (36 BB vs 38 K). He's only hitting .231 and only slugging .331, but the .351 OBP is quite a bit higher than the rest of the team (.309). Only Prado and Schafer have scored more runs per game. But, who can honestly say they have a Nate McLouth offensive highlight that sticks out in their mind from the season's first half? I didn't think so.
The first few weeks of the season, it looked like Jason Heyward was going to have numbers at the All-Star break that Matt Kemp has right now. He doesn't handle the inside pitch or the high inside pitch well at all and is only hitting .233, but how much of that May where he hit under .100 was due to the shoulder injury we'll never know.
Since his return to the lineup in mid-June, the Braves have gone 15-5, so it's hard to discount his presence in the lineup or what he's capable of doing. He can still reach the numbers he had last year (.277 - 18 - 72) with a strong second half.
Derek Lowe's first half has been extremely inconsistent as well. His almost perfecto in Philly was great, but he's gotten shelled by Houston and San Diego, not exactly the best offensive teams. His 5-6 record is probably about right for his 4.21 ERA I doubt he gets to 16 wins again, unless he pitches in the second half like he did last September.
Twenty five percent of Dan Uggla's hits this year have been homers. If he had 90 hits in his 327 AB we'd be loving it. However, while the 14HR's aren't bad, almost every other offensive stat about Uggla has been terrible. At least he knows he's stunk when he said "I'd boo me, too". He's had his moments (at SF, vs PHI, at MIL), but not enough of them for what the Braves are paying him.
Sherrill isn't a closer anymore, but his 2.35 ERA shows he can still get the job done in the right situation.
Proctor has a 3.78 ERA, but the Sunday game against the Orioles blowing the lead was about the only noticeable thing he's done—good or bad.
Linebrink has been solid since his ERA peaked at 7.50 in mid-May after a debacle against Washington. He's dropped that ERA to 3.34 in the two months since.
Cory Gearrin hasn't done too bad with his 3.38 ERA in limited appearances as a rookie.
Moylan visibly wasn't healthy early this year, so I'm not sure I can say the 4.15 ERA he had in limited duty was simply because he was pitching poorly.
Cristhian Martinez has provided some key innings at times, but also blew a couple of games for the Braves despite a good WHIP (1.07) and a decent ERA (3.53).
Minor hasn't pitched as bad as his record (1-2) and ERA (4.59) would indicate. He had two bad starts where he didn't go past five innings, and gave up more than five runs, but the other four were decent if not quite good. Delgado and Teheran have bright futures, but have to learn to put away hitters, and not rack up pitch counts so high.
Mather had one good game in Anaheim. There's a reason he was DFA.
Hernandez has been decent as an occasional pinch hitter, but that's about all he's contributed.
Hicks has lived up to his predictions: good with the glove, but can't hit.
Lugo the Braves took a flier on, because they didn't have a dependable backup SS. He's not doing any more than Hicks or Hernandez were.
For as good as Matt Young supposedly looked in spring training, he hasn't shown any of it this year.
Wilkin Ramirez, who I know very little about has four hits in 12 ABs since his recall, to go with two walks. OBP and SLG above .400 is a good sign.
Like many Braves fans, I've questioned some of his decisions with his batting order and his use of the bullpen. I think he realizes he needs to find a consistent lineup once everyone's healthy and try to get the guys at the back end a little bit more rest. Expanded rosters in September might help if Moylan, Medlen, Minor and Teheran find their way back to the big club to provide some relief to Kimbrel and Venters.
I can't knock the guy too much because he stuck with Kimbrel and Venters in their roles, is doing a good job of managing the starters and found a way to make his team get to 17 games over .500 with three games to go before the All-Star break. Players like playing for him. Along with balancing out bullpen assignments, I'd like to see Fredi with a bit more fire and find a hitting coach that will bring out the best in the Braves' bats.