Jul 11, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Atlanta Braves left fielder Justin Upton (left) and Andrelton Simmons (19) go for the ball against the Chicago Cubs during the ninth inning at Wrigley Field. The Chicago Cubs defeated the Atlanta Braves 5-4.Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Braves: What Have We Learned? First Half

It feels like just yesterday we were opening the season in Milwaukee, only to see a brilliant Julio Teheran start go for not in the 2-0 loss. Looking back on it, it’s pretty crazy how that first game, and overall, the whole opening series in which the Braves took two of three from the Brewers, would foreshadow what would come in the first half of the season.

We have seen this ball club play really, really well. They closed it on a high note, with back to back double-digit run games (something they haven’t done since before 2010), are tied for first place and are just two games off their pace from last year. We have seen them put together some great win streaks, the season began with some shutout starting pitching, and Tommy La Stella, Shae Simmons and, more recently, Christian Bethancourt have turned out to be great additions to the big league lineup. Plus, what was thought to be a laughable move has paid off immensely, as moving B.J. Upton to the leadoff role seems to have given him the spark that he need to get things going in a Braves uni.

However, on the flip side, we have also seen this club play really, really poorly. As we’ve covered in this very segment, the bullpen isn’t what it once was – while, yes, injuries to guys like David Carpenter and Jordan Walden have certainly been a factor of that, guys like Luis Avilan simply aren’t getting the job done. We have seen some terrible, terrible, losing streaks, the poor play of Dan Uggla (although, thankfully, not recently) and some horrendous offensive numbers from Chris Johnson.

The fact that the Braves are tied for first place and are only two games off of last years pace is, for the most part, incredible. They’re still in this, make no doubt about it, and a pennant race for the division (something this franchise hasn’t been involved in for quite some time) might actually do the club some good, and give them a sense of urgency.

But enough talk. Let’s get back to playing ball.

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Tags: Atlanta Braves

  • Mushy Peas

    I am consistently amused by the fact that when one chooses to single out a player for lack-luster performance, it always seems to be Chris Johnson. Even if it’s just one sentence, it’s always him. No one else seems to be dissected quite the way he is. It was obvious that CJ was going to regress this year and he’s certainly had his share of struggles at the plate this first half- but so has virtually everyone else! You can’t heap the entire ballclub’s underwhelming offense on a single player. I’m sure that’s not the intent, but every other article I read seems to make sure to mention any of CJ’s short-comings. For me, Jason Heyward has been the most lack-luster offensive player of them all relative to expectation. Until they moved him to the two spot, Simba hasn’t exactly performed up to par either. Even Freddie had an extended stretch where his offensive numbers were pretty dismal. Then you have the Upton brothers- the strikeout kings. I’m still not sold on the fact that this is the beginning of a huge turnaround for BJ. I’m glad he’s improved because it helps the ballclub, but, despite this, he’s still the biggest chink in the armour. So then why is it always Chris Johnson who gets the short end of the stick? Part of me thinks the reason he seems to get singled out so often is, quite simply, because his name isn’t Chipper Jones or Martín Prado. No matter what he does, he will never measure up. I think that’s extraordinarily unfair. I watch him play every game and I have never seen him fail to give 100% of himself. He consistently tries to do all he can to improve himself and do whatever it takes to help the ballclub. You really can’t ask for more than that. He came to Atlanta with no ego and, unlike some players, he was actually willing to take the constructive criticism of the hitting coaches. This allowed him to change his approach at the plate and, as a result, he had a career year. Without him, it’s likely the Braves would not have won 96 games last season. It’s also likely that, without him, the Braves would still be without a postseason win. My continued hope is that those who seem to be so quick to point out his flaws, will perhaps make an effort to give the guy a little bit more of the respect I feel he deserves.

    You’re welcome to hit back at me with as many negative statistics as you can find to prove a point. I realize numbers don’t lie, but the one thing I hate about statistics is that you can pick and choose whichever stats you like to make almost any player look as good or as bad as you want. I prefer to look at the entire picture which also includes taking notice of the things that are not so quantifiable.

    • Carlos Collazo

      You bring up some solid points Mushy Peas. I think Eric Graff (@TomahawkTalk) would agree with about everything you said here.

      I think Chris Johnson has been ripped apart a bit too much, and I also think he’s come through in some clutch situations this season (especially more recently) to help the team out. It really comes down to the ultra saber guys ripping on him non stop.

      Johnson’s not a particularly good player I don’t think, but he’s definitely done some good stuff for the team over the past year and a half. If he could just walk a bit more I think he could be a solid offensive contributor, but I would be shocked if that happened.

      Regardless, I appreciate the comment.

      • Mushy Peas

        Thank you for such a mannerly response. I honestly wasn’t expecting that; though, I wouldn’t go so far as to flatly say that he isn’t a good player. I agree that CJ isn’t going to win any gold gloves and isn’t going to shine sabermetrically. As much as we’d like, we’re not going to have a gold glover at every position. I also think that there shouldn’t be such a rigid interpretation of some of the statistics. Many can be construed in different ways when the player himself is taken into account. For example, I know alot of people are quick to say that CJ is just lucky given his consistently high BABIP. I respectfully disagree. I see a high BABIP as a result of more than just luck. I see it as a result of him being hard to defend against because he hits the ball equally to all fields. Also, his swing is consistent and deceptively long which makes the ball off his bat difficult to read; especially with his signature inside-out approach. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen the defense break the wrong way on a ball coming off his bat. To me, that’s not luck, that’s skill. I would also like him to walk more, but when he’s locked in, I’d much rather he swing to make contact. I see it somewhat like a reverse Joey Votto argument.
        I won’t try to make CJ out to be something he’s not- but he won’t either. I think that’s what I like most about him. He plays without pretense. He knows his limitations and accepts them, but, at the same time, he continues to try to improve on what skills he does have for the benefit of the team. I also don’t mind that he wears his emotions on his sleeve. Sure, there have been circumstances where I felt he should’ve handled himself better. Not everyone is a stoic and that’s fine with me so long it’s not singularly about drawing attention to yourself. So many players these days are preoccupied with their own image. CJ certainly isn’t one of those players. He’s passionate and competative. When he does get angry, I see it as simply a matter of him giving a damn. He doesn’t ever seem to want to let anybody down. He gives one hundred percent, one hundred percent of the time. I admire that in a ballplayer and, as I said before, you really can’t ask for any more than that.
        Again, thank you for being polite. That’s part of the reason I like the Fansided sites. The comments/debates tend to have a measure of civility you don’t find in most other forums. :-)

        • Carlos Collazo

          Haha of course. There’s no point in getting into some kind of intense argument about the game just because we have different opinions about players. That’s what Twitter is about.

          We appreciate all of your comments as well, especially the ones that might not be right in line with our thinking.