At this point of the season, the Atlanta Braves definitely didn’t plan on being 32-29. Losing Tim Hudson to free agency, Kris Medlen, and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John Surgery before the season started hurt their rotation significantly. They were able to rebound though, by signing Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang (for reasons that made no sense at the time) and re-signing Julio Teheran to a six year deal. The once deflated rotation dominated the first few weeks of the season, but still don’t get the run support they need to win games. They have the second best team ERA in the majors at 2.96, but the Achilles heel of the Braves this season stems from two things, their bullpen as of late, and their OPS.
There have been some bright spots this season though, one of the main ones is BJ Upton. Upton had a miserable first year in Atlanta; it was painful to watch at times. Although he’s still not where the Braves would like him to be, he’s starting to come around. Last year, BJ finished with a batting average of .184, and an OBS of .557. He struck out 33.9% of the time, which highest of his career and walked just 9.9% of the time; clearly he was just not seeing the ball well. Not to say he’s always been a consistent hitter, but it was never that bad in Tampa Bay. This season, although his average is at .212, he’s improved significantly. (thanks to his new glasses) He’s striking out 29.9% of the time, and walking 9.4% of the time, so he’s walking less, but he’s also striking out less, which is good.
Jason Heyward has been hitting well lately, before it was snapped by the Diamondbacks, Heyward had an 11 game hitting streak going with a couple home runs thrown in. Justin Upton is doing very Justin Upton-like things, hitting a lot of home runs, striking out a lot, but his batting average and OBS are much better than they were last year. Although it’s still early to gauge, Tommy La Stella has been phenomenal since being called up. Dan Uggla has still been miserable, and the Braves cycling players to find a replacement has come to an end. Simmons, Freeman, and Gattis have also been very solid. (Chris Johnson, not so much)
The bullpen as of late has been very suspect, mainly because Jordan Walden has been hurt. As one of the best setup men in the majors, it’s been tough for the Braves to keep leads without him. Sabermetrics tell us that Walden’s WPA (win probability added) is the highest of all of the relievers on the Braves at 0.76, which means they have the best odds of winning when he’s pitching in his role, and Kimbrel is second with a WPA of 0.68. What that means is the Braves have the best odds of winning when Walden comes out to set up Kimbrel. Which goes to show how much they miss Walden.
The NL East is a three way battle for first place right now between the Braves, Nationals and Marlins. It’s very tight; it doesn’t look like these three teams will fall off any time soon. Unfortunately for the Braves, it’s not a case of their bullpen needing help; they are good, but not as good as they were last year. They just need to be better in pressure situations, once Walden comes back; they will be in a much better position. They’ve gone 4-6 out of their last 10, which includes losing two out of three against the Diamondbacks, who aren’t doing so well. Some of those losses have been bullpen related losses, they are hoping that Shae Simmons can become the next great set up man. He’s young, and making mistakes, but he has shown a lot of promise. Braves need to get back on track though, they cannot continue to let teams hang around in the division.