The All-Star Break is approaching, but the Atlanta Braves have already completed half of their 2017 schedule. A sweep of the Oakland Athletics on Sunday punctuated the 81-game marker which saw the club post a 40-41 record over the season’s first three months.
With Freddie Freeman on the mend and apparently on his way back as the Braves’ new third baseman, the team embarks on a grueling stretch of games that could determine both the fate of their season and their strategy for July’s non-waiver trade deadline.
Here are some notes and trends at the halfway point (81 games):
- Following the Oakland series, Atlanta’s record without Freddie Freeman is 24-20.
- The Braves were 16-21 when Freeman went on the disabled list.
- The team’s 40-41 record is substantially improved from 2016, which was 28-53 at this point.
- Atlanta is 7.5 games behind Washington in the NL East and 6.5 games out of the second wild card.
- Would you believe the Braves and Chicago Cubs (41-41) are separated by a mere half-game in the wild-card race?
- The Braves are 12-10 in one-run games, the third best mark in the National League.
- Atlanta’s record in 205 games under manager Brian Snitker is 99-106 (since May 17, 2016).
Some statistical trends through 81 games:
- Atlanta’s rotation owns a 4.80 ERA, which ranks 11th in the NL and 24th in MLB.
- The Braves were 5-8 in Bartolo Colon’s 13 starts, though it may have felt otherwise.
- Starters not named Colon have combined for a 4.28 ERA (402 innings) this season.
- That 4.28 ERA minus-Colon would rank ninth best in MLB, but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.
- Braves relievers have combined for a 3.98 ERA, which is fourth among NL teams and ninth in MLB.
- Closer Jim Johnson is tied for second in MLB with six blown saves. Atlanta is 3-3 in those games, however.
- The Braves have committed 53 errors, fourth most in the NL and seventh most in MLB.
- A staggering 27 of those errors came in the month of May.
- Those 53 errors have contributed to 41 unearned runs, the most in the NL and third most in MLB.
- Atlanta’s offense ranks fifth in the NL with a .263 batting average, but ninth in the league with 370 runs scored.
“Business is about to pick up…”
Based on strength of schedule, the Braves have played the easiest schedule in MLB thus far according to ESPN’s Relative Power Index. The Nationals have played the next easiest, by the way. That aside, there will be nothing pleasant about the 19 games ahead for Atlanta.
About that stretch of games, which begins with a brief two-game set against the Astros on Tuesday at SunTrust Park:
A few more stats and trends heading into this meat grinder of a schedule:
- The five teams Atlanta will play are a combined 252-162 (.608 winning percentage).
- The Braves will square off against the clubs with the best record in the NL and AL (Dodgers and Astros), three division leaders (Dodgers, Astros and Nationals), four would-be playoff teams (Dodgers, Astros, Nationals and Diamondbacks) and the defending World Champion Cubs.
- The Braves are 8-9 versus Division Leaders this season (Nationals, Brewers and Astros).
- Atlanta is just 11-10 against the three worst teams in the NL (Giants, Padres and Phillies).
For better or worse, the Braves will gain clarity about their season over these next six series. If Atlanta makes it through with a .500 or better mark, then the club could look to add a piece or two at the trade deadline. Conversely, if this stretch of games does not go well, the Braves may field some offers from contenders on a few of their veteran players. Either way, it’s fair to say general manager John Coppolella will likely be conducting business on or before the trade deadline.
Braves have a brand new All-Star representative…
Congratulations to Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte, who was named the All-Star team for the first time in his career. With the injury to Freddie Freeman, Inciarte will likely be Atlanta’s lone representative in Miami next week. In addition to his gold glove exploits, Inciarte has been making his fair share of contributions at the plate. He has collected 210 hits over the past calendar year, a total good for second most (Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon has 212) in all of Major League Baseball. Inciarte batted .316 and posted a 5.2 fWAR (FanGraphs wins above replacement) over that stretch. That is the best total among all regular NL outfielders. The Cubs’ Kris Bryant owns a 6.9 fWAR over that time, but has played just 77 of his 154 games in the outfield during that 365 day sample.
Freeman on rehab assignment, could return this week…
Braves first baseman turned third baseman Freddie Freeman spent the past week ramping up his work in the cage and joined Triple-A Gwinnett for a rehab assignment over the weekend. He had just two plate appearances on Saturday thanks to rain in Charlotte. Freeman finished 0-for-1 with a walk and a strikeout and handled his only chance in the field at third base cleanly. After taking Sunday off, Freeman will play three consecutive games with Gwinnett before being reevaluated on Wednesday. If all goes according to plan, Freeman could be activated from the disabled list in time for Thursday’s series opener against the Nationals in Washington. He has been out since May 18 after suffering a fractured left wrist. The initial timetable called for Freeman to miss 8-10 weeks, with an expected return on or around August 1. Amazingly, he is at least two full weeks ahead of schedule.
Sean Rodriguez sees his first game action…
In what has been a surprising development for all the right reasons, Braves infielder Sean Rodriguez appears to be well ahead of schedule in his return from a shoulder injury. It was initially feared that he could miss the entire 2017 season, but Rodriguez has increased baseball activities throughout June and traveled to Orlando to join the club’s Gulf Coast League affiliate over the weekend. He underwent shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder in February, the result of a frightening automobile accident for the Rodriguez family. With both he and his loved ones on the mend, it appears that Rodriguez could be ready to make his Braves debut sooner than later. He played second base and went 1-for-3 with the GCL team on Saturday, his first action this season. He followed that up with a start at shortstop on Monday, finishing 0-for-2 at the plate. Atlanta signed the versatile Rodriguez to a two-year, $11.5 million contract over the winter in hopes that he would strengthen the club at all four infield spots and contribute in the outfield as well. Rodriguez appeared at seven position and set numerous career-highs in 2016 while with the Pirates, batting .270/.349/.510 with 18 home runs and 56 RBI in 300 at-bats. An early return for Rodriguez would be yet another boost for the Braves in the second half.
Highly-touted Kevin Maitan makes long-awaited debut…
This is a late entry and one that does not directly affect the big club, but 17-year-old super prospect Kevin Maitan made his professional debut with the GCL Braves on Monday. After signing a $4.25 million deal with Atlanta as the top available international player on the market in 2016, the Venezuela native made his debut exactly one year and one day later. Maitan finished his first game 1-for-1 with a walk while serving as the designated hitter. A shortstop by trade, he had been slowed by a minor hamstring issue which delayed his debut by a week or so. The switch-hitting Maitan could reach Danville this season and be primed for full-season ball by the age of 18 next season.