Despite multiple injuries throughout the year the Atlanta Braves are doing well in their first season without Bobby Cox. New Manager Fredi Gonzalez has managed the Braves to a 64-48 record with Atlanta currently holding a 2.5 game lead in the NL wild card race.
Though a playoff birth is far from secured, the Braves are realistic contenders to represent the National League in this year's World Series. With Chipper Jones and Jason Heyward struggling many of you may be wondering who will lead Atlanta to their first NL pennant since 1999?
Here are six reasons to believe despite the Braves' recent lull.
Michael Bourn was recently acquired via a trade with the Houston Astros. Bourn is the Braves first legitimate leadoff hitter since Rafeal Furcal left Atlanta for the Dodgers years ago. Bourn’s mere presence will create numerous scoring opportunities that the Braves desperately need. The athletic center fielder instantly holds the Braves second highest batting average (.303) and also sports the teams' fourth highest on base percentage (.362).
Think about this. Bourn has reached base 172 times out of his 442 at bats this season. Thus, Bourn gets on base roughly every 2.6 at bats. No one on the Braves roster comes close to this production.
Did we mention he leads the majors with 39 stolen bases while the entire Braves roster combined for 45 on the year? He’s stolen a base (reached scoring position) 39 times out of a possible 172 opportunities. Thus, he creates a scoring opportunity every fourth time he’s on base. Or in other words, he single-handedly creates a scoring opportunity every 11th at bat.
That’s one manufactured scoring opportunity guaranteed every two games. Bourn is everything the Braves wished Jordan Schafer would become and more. Without Bourn the Braves aren’t legitimate World Series contenders.
Dan Uggla has finally decided to show up. It’s no secret that Uggla is having an atrocious year, but he's recently strung together a 25-game hitting streak that’s resulted in 11 homers and 23 RBI. During that span, he’s hit .354 which brings his season batting average to .215. That’s not a typo either.
Uggla has a career stat line of (BA.257/ OBP.341/ SLG .480/ OPS .821) and if he returns to form, and it appears that he has, he’ll provide the right-handed power bat the Braves have expected all along. Uggla is the Braves' current home run leader and is likely to become the first Braves hitter to acquire 30-plus homers since Mark Teixeira in 2007 (13 of which were with the Rangers before being traded to Atlanta).
Freddie Freeman could possibly be the NL Rookie of the Year. While the Braves superstar Jason Heyward is having a horrible sophomore slump, their other top prospect Freeman has put together a solid season. Rather unexpectedly Freeman has produced 15 HR and 54 RBI to date and is currently projected to outperform Heyward’s rookie season in every category. If you’re unaware, Jason Heyward was a serious contender for last year's Rookie of the Year Award before being narrowly defeated by the surging Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants.
Though he's always been projected as a solid hitting first baseman; no one expected him to become Atlanta’s second best hitter; bowing only to All Star Brian McCann.
We expect Freeman to lead the Braves by continuing his stellar rookie season ultimately propelling them deep into October. Think Buster Posey’s and the SF Giants' circa 2010 and swap out Freeman for Posey and put on a Braves jersey.
The Braves' pitching has been lights out and their depth will help down the stretch. With Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor, the Braves are stacked with young stars and solid veterans.
Tommy Hanson currently holds an 11-6 record but his performance this year has been much better than his record would lead one to believe. Hanson has 137 strikeouts on the year which ranks him amongst the league leaders.
Jair Jurrjens has bounced back from a dreadful 2010 campaign sporting a ERA of 2.63 and WHIP of 1.14 this season. He's outperformed Tommy Hanson and has been one of the Braves' more surprising stories of 2011. He's no Halladay but he's dominant every time he takes the mound.
Though Lowe, Hudson and Beachy don't individually stand out, they collectively make up the rest of the Braves' Rotation which is currently one of the best in the big leagues.
Strikeouts- second in NL (914)
Opponents Batting Average- second in NL (.235)
Quality Starts- fourth in NL (67)
Total Wins- second in NL (64)
ERA- fourth in NL (3.32)
Furthermore, should injury concerns arise, the Braves have Mike Minor waiting in AAA. Minor has MLB experience and has been quite successful in Gwinnett this year with a 2.82 ERA. Whether it's Minor or the regular starting five, the Braves have a legitimate chance to win with any pitcher they send to the mound.
Only three other teams can say that this year.
Usually a team either has a good starting rotation or a good bullpen. The Braves have a good starting rotation and a stellar bullpen.
Craig Kimbrel is arguably the best closer in all of the majors with 32 saves, while Venters and O'Flaherty have combined for 42 holds, both with an ERA below 1.30. Some have even predicted that Craig Kimbrel will win the Rookie of the Year Award over teammate Freddie Freeman.
A few sports gurus have suggested that Atlanta's bullpen will fade down the stretch but the young guns have shown no signs of wear thus far. Most teams would be happy with the three mentioned above and rightfully so. However, the Braves are blessed with outstanding pitching depth and have even more to offer.
Julio Teheran, the Braves' top pitching prospect, will be called up this September and will likely contribute in the bullpen. Think David Price with the Rays during their recent World Series run and your close to what Teheran can provide. Let that sink in a moment.......
Now imagine Julio Teheran, Johnny Venters, Eric O'Flatherty, and Craig Kimbrel plus the Braves starting rotation in a best of seven series. Pretty good odds!
He's the Braves current John Smoltz. He's bald, has a beard and dominates his position especially during the clutch. With Chipper's health rendering him unreliable, McCann has become the undisputed leader of the Atlanta Braves. The All Star catcher leads the Braves in the following categories:
Batting Average (.308)
On Base Percentage (.375)
McCann is also the second leading Braves hitter in home runs and walks. He's simply the Braves' best player and has become the heart and soul of the organization. I know that may be blasphemy for many, Chipper fans in particular, but McCann proves it day in and day out.
Brian McCann wins the World Series MVP after leading the Braves in a victorious Game 7 vs. the Boston Red Sox. Believe it!