Tuesday, July 10, 2012

First Half of the Season Recap

It's been a wild ride so far heading into the All-Star break. The Braves have seen some dizzying highs and terrifying lows on their quest to find some consistency with this team. The players have changed, the injuries have piled up, but we're still only 4 games out of first and sitting in the wild card position with just over 80 games left in the season. What are some of the moments we can look back on and use as motivation for the second half? Also, who were our first half Heroes and our first half Heels? See if my thoughts match how you've felt about the Braves thus far.

Let's talk about streaks. If there was one word I would use to describe the Braves thus far, it would be streaky. That's both good and bad. Let me detail how this season has unfolded in terms of our ridiculous streaks. We opened by losing 4 in a row, then we won 10 of the next 11, we went even for the rest of April, had a sweep in Colorado, dropped 2 to the Cubs, swept the Cardinals, evened out a couple of short series, then went into an 8 game losing skid. After that we won 8 of the next 9, followed by losing 7 of the next 8, then win 3, lose 2, win 2, lose 4 of 5, win 5 of 6. WHAT? We're a rollercoaster. Oh, and our home record is horrific, let alone the ridiculous Monday 0/10 run. If we'd have just gone .500 on Mondays, we'd be in first place. We are a huge cruise ship that turns really really slowly. When we're on course, it's amazing. When we're off course, we're an iceburg away from becoming post-season shark bait.

What can we say the Braves have done well? Well we're scoring runs at a much better rate than we have in the past seasons. Right now we're 4th in the NL, and we're 6th in team average. Our team has been great in the field with the addition of Simmons, and we're 3rd in NL fielding percentage. Also, our bullpen has been extremely strong going 5th in NL ERA, and Kimbrel leading the league in saves. What can we improve? We're 11th in batting average with RISP. The Mets are on our heels in the standings, and they are 3rd in that category. We are dead last in average in the 3 hole, 13th in the 4 hole, and 12th in the 5 hole. The middle of our order, frankly, has been pathetic. Conversely, our 1-2-6-7 hitters are the best in the league. Can you imagine what would happen if our supposed heart of the order got its collective head out of its collective butt?

What else have we learned? Well for starters, we're not very good at hitting late in games. After the 6th inning, the Braves only average 1.28 runs a game. That's 10th in the league. Now, that's not a huge deal if you're winning, because Philly is dead last in our division and they are 1st in the league in late runs. So, that stat can be misleading. Also, we've learned that our pinch hitters are basically useless. We're dead last in the league in pinch hitting with a .160 average and 35 Ks. That could bite us down the stretch because we'll need good pinch hitters for our pitchers late in games. On the plus side, when we load the bases, we're going to burn the other team. The Braves are hitting .296 with the sacks packed, and are 2nd in the league with 64 runs scored in that category. Why do I bring that up? We were dead last in that category last season, hitting only .195 with 29 Ks. Part of the reason we collapsed offensively is because we couldn't capitalize in big scenarios down the stretch. Right now, the team has been making the most of other team's mistakes.

So who stepped up for us this season? Who are the Heroes? My first one is Michael Bourn. Not only is he the best leadoff man in the NL with a .311 average, he's also hitting for power with 7 home runs, 6 triples, and 17 doubles. Oh and did I mention stolen bases? He's second in the league with 25 on the season. It's pretty obvious why he's been a great asset to the team. Not to be one-upped at the plate though is Martin Prado. Martin is 7th in the NL in average with a .321, 100+ hit first half. In fact, Prado is the only player with over 100 hits not to make the All Star team. Part of that is because he's competing with Melky Cabrera in LF who is hitting .353, so it's hard for me to make an argument against that selection. What Martin doesn't get enough credit for is his eye at the plate. Right now he's drawn 33 walks to 38 Ks. That's on par with Joey Votto and David Wright in terms of pitch selection. The third guy is Jason Heyward. From the outhouse to the penthouse this season, Jason has been putting plenty of balls in the stands with 14 homers. He's an all-around player right now with a .272 average, .500 slugging, 11 steals, and 41 RBIs. I like his approach at the plate and I applaud the work he and Greg Walker have put in on his swing. The last one is Simmons, for his amazing glove work and hitting prowess at a young age. It kills me that he's injured and we'll have to figure out something in the meantime, but this kid is going to be a defensive star for years to come if he stays healthy.

Every team has it's Heels, or the players who have yet to perform on the season. The obvious one is Dan Uggla, who made the All Star team with a .221 average somehow. Dan's problem right now is the strikeout. He's been K'd 99 times this season, and that has to stop if he's going to have any second half success. However, Dan's managed to hit .283 for the last 3 seasons after the All Star break, so the numbers are there for him to succeed. Brian McCann is our other Heel in the first half with a .238 average, but he's showing signs of breaking out of it in the Philly series. In fact, Brian's hitting .421 in his last 5 games, so we're all very hopeful he will make the smooth transition from Heel to Hero in the latter half. Our third and final Heel is Eric Hinske. Diesel had a strong start to the season, but he's been a pinch hitting disaster ever since the beginning of May. Whereas Eric was hitting .348 in April, he's hit rock bottom in May and June, going .180 and .130 respectively. Sadly, I think this might be it for Eric on the team. Last season he didn't improve after the break and went .111 in August, and .130 in September. Were I Frank Wren, I'd be looking to make a move for a better pinch hitter in that slot, and probably release Eric on waivers. It's been a good run for him on the team, but I think he's probably reached the limit of his value to the Braves. The fact that he's .206 post-break over the last three years cements the need to make a move.

So that's where we've come from. Tomorrow I'll look at the remaining schedule to see where we are headed. Make sure to tune in tonight to catch the All Star game that Bud Selig wants to determine the winner of the World Series. Or watch something interesting instead. I'll probably be watching Wipeout on ABC, where stupid people run an obstacle course for peanuts. There's something very satisfying about watching gloryhogging idiots get hit in the face with a flying rubber shark on a stick.

Go Braves!

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