The Atlanta Braves roared out of the gate in 2014 with a 17-7 start. They then fashioned a nice nine game win streak in late June. Those two stretches, nineteen games over .500 26-7, were highly productive to be sure. The quick start was completely attributable to the starting staff collectively pitching lights out. Reality caught up to them in Miami and normality has settled in since. The nine game streak, was built by their best offensive series of the year, a four game sweep in Philadelphia, three less than awe inspiring wins at home over the stumbling at the time, David Wright less Mets and finally two wins over a sub par Arizona team. Their current record, after Thursday nights 3rd loss in four to the Miami Marlins, is 55-47. Other than the two excellent stretches, the record in all the other games is 29-40. Sadly, their performance in those 69 games is a far more representative of who and what this team actually is.
The pitching has been very good. However, the recent horrific struggles of Mike Minor is very disconcerting. He has been lit up in recent starts. Julio Teheran is a so,if frontline pitcher, but has struggled away from home. Earvin Santana, is as good as his slider in any given start. If it’s on, he’s tough, if not, not so much. Aaron Harangue has provided quality starts, but his penchant for always pitching with runners on the bases, is constantly a time bomb primed to blow up. Alex Wood, is a solid lefty starter, but still very young. Bottom line on thvs tarting staff, solid, not spectacular. Mike Minor in effectiveness is a major concern. Unfortunately, I believe this staff has started to regress and down the stretch will not be very good,
The void of lefties in the bullpen is startling. Where is Johnny Venters? Apparently he was abducted by aliens. Sadly, Tommy John surgery doesn’t always work. Luis Avilan has been shaky and now they have a kid up, Chaisen Shreve, who is really unproven. Walden, Simmons, Varvaro all have been very good. Carpenter, may be in comeback trail, too early to say. Craig Kimbrell has been is usual dominant force. However, he has shown vulnerability at times when he fails to spot his fastball, there are games that his movement betrays him and walks have been costly. Other times, his extreme velocity has been countered by being up with his pitches. Even belt high 98 MPH heat can be timed by big league hitters. Look for th team to acquire a left handler here at the trading deadline. Bullpen forecast, very good.
The regular starting eight have been maddeningly inconsistent. The Upton brothers are both talented. As they go, the Braves seem to go. BJ.plays the game with indifference emblematic of a man not happy about having to be at work. His body language and passion for his draft, resembles a highway working standing idly or at best going through the motions. Justin Upton, immensely talented, seems to fluctuate as far as his day to day focus. His statistics are solid but in major slots with games on the line, he has not delivered. Defensively, neither Upton typically shines. Both are capable of a great play but far more likely to butcher a routine one. BJ particularly struggles coming in on drives to center. Justin, is not likely to get to anything not hit in his immediate area.
The franchise cornerstones are Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward.
Both have the ability to carry the team briefly. Heyward defensively has risen to the pedestal of the game’s greatest right fielder. Offensively, the nonsensical insistence of him leading off, has negatively effected his plate persona. Moved down in the lineup, he perhaps can regain a power to all fields approach. It was just a couple of years ago that he was marketed as the games next great slugger. Where has all the power gone? Freeman is also a premiere defensive player. His play still first base is stellar. Offensively, he was in an incredible zone to start the season. In recent weeks, he appears to be a man at the plate holding a ten pound bet. He seems sluggish, almost burned out. My theory is, he s so baseball savvy, he has to consistently produce for this team to win. I think that pressure he puts on himself has mentally exhausted him.
Tommy LaStella has been everything you could hope for. He hit a ton in the 7-hole, was moved to 2nd and struggled. He was moved back to 7th, caught fire again, so guess what? Gonzales moves him back to 2nd and he has had a lousy week.
Andrelton Simmons is a virtuoso at Short Stop. The best in baseball. He is hit and miss at the bet. With that glove, arm and range, anything he chips in offensively is a bonus.
Evan Gattis has seen an illness and then an injury stop his two best hot stretches at the plate. He has been back for a week and has yet to square up a pitch. He has been adequate behind the plate.
Chris Johnson plays a decent third base. Offensively he has improved largely after a disappointing first half. In his breakout year a season ago, his ability to put the ball in play led to him nearly winning a batting title. His 2014 start was head scratching. In a departure from his successful 2013 formula, he displayed little discipline and flailed at any and all pitches. Strikeouts increased dramatically as did lack of productivity. Seems better lately so perhaps he’s snapped out of it.
The bench is sub par. Pastornicky, Schaeffer, Pena, Laird, Doumit. Yawn! Okay players but no big spark guys. Serviceable at best.
The 2014 Braves have declined offensively as the season has gone forward. The team no longer displays power and is not built to manufacture runs. Which brings us to manager. Freddy Gonzales recent lineup switch has been a colossal mistake. Simmons and LaStella need to be switched back. With BJ Upton settling back into slumber mode, Jordan Schaeffer needs an opportunity to start some games. Or, shift Heyward to center, play Gattis in left and bring Bethancourt up to catch. The latter move would,d address a longtime baseball axiom, strength up the middle. Of course sitting BJ creates another Uggla situation. It just sit well or feel comfortable for your highest paid player to sit. Of course, it is just as uncomfortable to watch the uninspired, listless play of your big money star. It’s laughable, this stiff gets a couple of hits and people say, BJ is doing better. The guy is being paid in the range of the game’ stop stars. It is a sad situation when he indifferently takes a third strike or fails to utilize maximum effort and misplays balls hit to center field.
Obviously. This team Is very much in the race, so chances are management is forced into a stand pat/weather the storm posture. However, this team is, not a serious contender. It would be bold and against the book thinking but unload any veterans you can move for prospects. The Upttons, Johnson, Laird, Doumit, Pena, Harang, Santana. Go with young guys the rest of the year. Turn them loose, let em play. The current team is trending in the wrong direction. Make moves now and 2015, 20 years after their only ATL championship, an overdue celebration could break out.