There is no question that first baseman Freddie Freeman, hitting .433 with runners in scoring position, has been the Braves’ best player. “He’d be the guy you voted for the first-half MVP,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He’s batted over .300 the whole year, driven in big runs and played great defense.” That is why the Braves pushed so hard to get Freeman into the All-Star Game. But he didn’t play after jamming his left thumb on a tag last Saturday. Brian McCann replaced him, joining Craig Kimbrel on the National League team. McCann is having a bounce-back season following shoulder surgery.
Pivotal post-break player (s)
The Braves went into the season thinking they had one of the best outfields in the majors, putting B.J. Upton, Justin Upton and Jason Heyward together on the cover of their 2013 media guide. But the first half didn’t go as hoped with the exception of Justin’s 12 homers in April. The most pressure is on B.J. to rebound in the second half, but the Braves need all three to step up. Of course, they first have to get healthy. B.J. is on the DL and the others are hurting.
Buy or sell?
General manager Fran Wren is expected to be busy before the non-waiver deadline at the end of July and in August as well. The Braves will be on the lookout for help in the bullpen and a piece or two for the bench. Wren has some money left in his 2013 budget despite a busy offseason and should be able to take on salary in moderation. An experienced reliever to complement closer Craig Kimbrel and a veteran addition to the bench could be the difference from just making the playoffs and being a real postseason threat.
The Braves were hit hard by injuries in the first half, losing relievers Eric O’Flaherty (elbow) and Jonny Venters (elbow), and valuable utilityman Ramiro Pena (shoulder) to season-ending surgery. Outfielder Jordan Schafer, who was hitting .312, is out until at least the end of August with a broken ankle, further testing the team’s depth. In the final series before the All-Star Game, the starting outfield and first baseman Freddie Freeman were all hurt, with B.J. Upton landing on the DL.
The Braves expect to get a second-half lift from a player brought up from the minors, but it won’t be a new face. Brandon Beachy, who was developing into one of the top young pitchers in NL before needing Tommy John surgery last June, should be ready to rejoin the Braves by late July. He had hoped to be back last month, but suffered a minor setback during his rehab. Other than Beachy, the Braves don’t have much to bring up. Most candidates have already made it to Atlanta.
The Braves should be able to hold off Washington and finish first in the National League East. But they need to finish with at least one of the two best records in the NL to insure home-field advantage if they want to go far in the playoffs. The Braves are 31-15 at Turner Field this season and 23-26 on the road. The home record is the best in the majors and neither the pitching nor hitting has been consistent away from Atlanta, where the Braves have enjoyed comeback magic.