In our final installment of the Braves mid-season review, we’re actually taking a glance forward at the rest of the season. Instead of grades, each of our writers will be predicting what’s to come for the final 67 games. Let’s go!
Eric: The Braves have the biggest division lead in all of baseball after the first half of the season. This should bode well for their chances of taking back the NL East crown. It does help that the Braves won’t play a single game West of St. Louis during the entire second half of the season. There are 67 games left on the schedule and 19 of those are against the Marlins and Mets. In fact, 41 of their 67 remaining games are against the NL East, so the division is there for the taking. The only 2 Inter-league series the team has left are against a bad White Sox team, and a surprisingly good Cleveland squad. The Braves have the best home record in the majors and will have 38 of their 67 second half contests at Turner Field. I see the Braves going 39-28 in the second half which would put them at 93-69 and will win the NL East but about 6-7 games. As far as individual performances go, I think Uggla will hit over 30 HRs, BJ Upton will not break the .200 mark in batting average, I do believe that Simmons will get his OBP over .300, McCann will continue his excellent season, which unfortunately will be his last in Atlanta, Heyward and Justin Upton will keep trending upward, as will the offense as a group, and unfortunately, the pitching will take a step back. Overall, it will be a fun second half that will hopefully be injury free and end with the Braves reclaiming their rightful place at the top of the NL East.
Harris: The Atlanta Braves rank second in the NL in wRC+ (meaning they have the second best offense when adjusted for park factors) and rank third in FIP (meaning the third best pitching when adjusted for batted ball luck). The Braves competition for their division, the Washington Nationals, rank 14th in wRC+ and second in FIP (0.03 points ahead of the Braves). The Braves are six games ahead of the Nationals which is the largest division lead in baseball. By Pythagorean record (which uses runs scored vs runs allowed to determine what a team’s record should be), the Braves should actually be up ten games on the Nationals, which suggests bad luck has hurt the Braves this year. The Braves playoff odds have them currently with a 92.5% chance to make the playoffs, while the Nationals have a 20.3% chance. The Braves have done all this with a slew of injuries, slumps from key players, and playing a tough schedule. The rest of the way, the Braves play games no further west than St Louis and play the most home games in baseball. The Braves play the most home games in baseball the rest of the way while currently sporting the best home winning percentage in baseball. The Braves have 18 games remaining against teams with a winning record. This is the fewest in baseball. Baseball is inherently unpredictable and anything can happen. The Braves could conceivably miss the playoffs this year, but with all the information currently available, the only logical conclusion is that the Braves are likely to win the NL East for the first time since 2005. Therefore, my second half prediction is the Braves will win the NL East and finish with the second best record in the NL. It’s no guarantee but it is certainly the most likely outcome. I also predict the Braves will lead the NL in walks and home runs with the second best wRC+ in the NL but certain segments of the media and fans will never shut up about strikeouts.
Brad S: The first half of the season was one full of ups and downs for the Atlanta Braves and so far it has been a season to remember if you’re a Braves fan. The 2013 season saw the Braves jump out to a 12-1 start and every little bloop or blast seemed to go in the direction for the Braves. The bullpen stayed true to form without the likes of Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty and Christian Martinez, as different guys stepped up and helped bridge the gap to Craig Kimbrel in the ninth. The first half saw Justin Upton race out to a video game-like start, while his brother B.J. struggled in his new uniform. It saw the likes of Evan Gattis become a folk hero in just a small amount of time in Braves country and create special moments like this one in front of his dad. It also saw one Alex Wood, just a short time after being drafted, make his major league debut this year and pitch his way onto the scouting report of many Major League hitters. But with the good comes with the bad. While the Braves host a six game lead in NL East they have had to do it without players who the Braves relied on early in the year. Countless injuries to the bullpen as well as Gattis, Ramiro Pena, Jason Heyward and the two Uptons have made the Braves rely on people they thought they wouldn’t have to but, like every fairy tale ending, those players have stepped up immensely and have helped contribute to the year the Braves have had. Now moving forward the Braves have a lot of work to do if they want to get where they want to be. The Braves with that six game lead must stay focused on the goal ahead of them and continue to apply pressure to the Nationals and Phillies. It won’t be an easy task, but it can be done. The Braves are going to have to overcome injuries that has seemed to plague them this year and so far it’s been for the better–but how long will that last? There’s no doubt in my mind the Braves might be a trade away from being serious contenders in the National League. Or if they stay the course and not trade for anyone, the Braves will have to rely on those same people who have helped them get to where they are now and hope for the best. With pitching and timely hitting that Braves’ fans saw in the beginning of the year, the same must hold true in the second half. A wise man once told me, “you must drive for show, and putt for dough.” That saying holds true to what the Braves need to do. They need to continue to keep the foot on the gas pedal and finish strong and sooner than later, the Braves will be bringing a World Series trophy back to its rightful place at Turner Field.
Brad R: Because we attacked this “review” by segments of the roster, I’m going to stick to that theme here for predicting the rest of the season. As far as the bench and lineup are concerned, the second half production will be based greatly on health. I am firmly in the camp that we will see improvement from all three members of the starting outfield, with BJ Upton’s power returning (think 10 homers in the final 67 games), Justin Upton looking more like the April version than the May/June version, and Jason Heyward continuing his rebound from an awful start to finish as a 4-5 win player. Evan Gattis will take a step back power-wise, but still will finish with 20 home runs from a mostly-bench role, and that’s like stealing. On the infield, Andrelton Simmons will lead the league (easily) in defensive runs saved, raise his batting average to the .260 range (with a .300-ish OBP), and hopefully, start hitting 8th. Freddie Freeman will continue to be Freddie Freeman, finishing with a .295/.365/.475 slash line and 20 home runs. At second and third base, Dan Uggla will fly past 30 home runs on the season, but still hit .200 (with a .310 OBP), while Chris Johnson’s BABIP will crash and we’ll wonder aloud why the Braves didn’t make a move at 3rd base before the deadline. The bullpen will include either Brandon Beachy or Kris Medlen as we head down the stretch, and I’m not sure we won’t see Alex Wood back either. Craig Kimbrel will finish the year as the best closer (again), but Jordan Walden’s set-up work will generate nearly comparable buzz. Also, the Braves will deal for a lefty reliever of little-to-no consequence… and it’ll work out perfectly (again). In the rotation, Mike Minor will look more like the early season version, finishing with an ERA under 3.00 while both Maholm and Medlen will cede their jobs at some point during the 2nd half to Brandon Beachy and Alex Wood. Tim Hudson will be Tim Hudson and finish with a 3.60 ERA, and Julio Teheran will continue to remind us of why he was so highly touted as a prospect. Overall, the team will maintain a comfortable NL East lead, but they’ll do it by playing even better in the 2nd half in order to hold off Washington. I would predict a 41-26 (.611 winning percentage) finish to the season for a final record of 95-67 and an NL East title. It’s too early (and frankly, too difficult) to predict playoff success without knowing the match-ups, but the team will avoid the play-in game and be in great position to challenge for the pennant.
Carlos: The first half of the season was good for the Braves but not great. Given the pitching the team had and the way the Washington Nationals played I feel like we should be in an even better position than we are at the moment. However, with that said we still have the biggest divisional lead in baseball and the hitting should only improve as we move forward. The one thing I am concerned about is regression/injuries to pitchers in the second half. We have been extremely fortunate and lucky with the health the starting rotation has seen and I’ll never be convinced that a starting rotation will remain the same from Opening Day until October. I am confident in Mike Minor and Julio Teheran at this point but not so much with the others. Thankfully we have great pitching depth in Brandon Beachy and Alex Wood at the moment and even more if Frank Wren makes a trade for another arm. Even if it’s not an arm I am highly confident Wren will make an addition to the team at the deadline. Given his history, it should be something pretty solid. We also have an extremely easy schedule to work with in the second half of the season. Buster Olney ranked it the fourth easiest in baseball. These things combined with my belief that the Braves hitters are going to go off (a healthy McCann/Freeman, Heyward getting healthy and being hot before the break, same with Justin to a lesser extent, and Dan Uggla’s improvement) brings me to my NL East championship prediction. To go even further I’ll say the Braves finish the season with a 40-27 record in the second half (.597 W%) and beat the Nationals (39-28, .582 W%) by 7 games in the division. I think both teams will play better in the second half but the Nats rough start will be too much to overcome with a healthy Braves team hitting like I expect them too. I’m not convinced about the playoffs yet, it still depends on what happens with our starts and key hitters but I do think we’ll do better than the past three years at least.
Second Half MVP: Brian McCann
Second Half Bold Prediction: Andrelton Simmons will be moved out of the lead off spot
Mark: I will try to keep this short and sweet. The Braves hold the largest lead of any division in the majors, at six games. As frustrating as this team has been to watch at times this season, they are in a great position. I do believe the Braves will hold on to win the division, the main reason being I just don’t think the Nationals have a run in them. I keep waiting for them to get hot, but it hasn’t happened yet, and I honestly see them floundering around .500 the rest of the way. What will be really interesting to see is how the Brave’s young bullpen fairs down the stretch. With the injuries to Venters and O’Flaherty, a few of these young guys are in roles many didn’t see them in this season. They have done a great job so far, now the next test is how they fare in the hear of pennant chase. Brandon Beachy is expected back soon, so the rotation will go through a bit of a transformation. I’m not going to predict what will happen when he comes back, as I literally have no idea, as there are numerous options. Who will go to the pen, how effective will Beach be? Many Questions to be answered on that side. On the offensive side, the immediate concern is the health of Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward and the Upton brothers who all went down with injuries in final series of the first half. Freeman appears ready to come back Friday or Saturday, so no worries there. Justin Upton could be back by the weekend as well. Heyward we will wait and see, and B.J. is on the DL. I don’t foresee anything being serious, and hopefully all will be in the lineup after the weekend. I will say I predict B.J. to turn things around a bit, and get that AVG up over .200. Not spectacular by any means, but considering where currently sits, I will take it. I also say Dan Uggla will be hitting over .220 by the end of the year, and continue on his recent power tear. The offense has been making more contact lately, and this bodes very well for the second half. The power numbers will be there as they have been, but you will also start seeing some small ball, which will be a very welcome sign. In conclusion the Braves will be headed to the post-season, and this year won’t have to deal with the wild card game.