On June 19, the Atlanta Braves stand at 31-37. After 68 games — roughly 42 percent of the season — the Braves are 10.5 games behind Washington (42-27) for the lead in the National League East. The All-Star break — the consensus midway point of the Major League Baseball season — is three weeks away.
Before we get into the good stuff, I want to clear the air. Shout-y sports talk shows and braggadocios columnists, I fear, have cast a cloud of arrogance over professionals of sports journalism and entertainment industries. Everyone talks loud when they want to sound smart, and they want to sound smart because they either believe it or are trying to convince themselves. I, on the other hand, believe that people — no matter what you say, or what facts you bring to the table — will form their own opinions to support their beliefs, no matter how loud or shout-y I am.
I want you to form your own opinion. I’m fully aware I’m often quite wrong. In fact, this particular column is about how I’ve been very wrong. I’m not the exclamatory pundit begging for your eyes on daytime television, I’m your humble local sports reporter, who wonders almost every day how he’s doing this for a living. Allow me to make myself vulnerable.
I wrote a column titled ‘What can we realistically expect from the Braves’ on Opening Day. In the final paragraph, I tabbed the Braves for 74 wins. Up to 31 wins through 42 percent of the season, the Braves are on pace for 73.8529412 wins. Let’s just call it, 74 wins.
OK, I was right about that one. At least, I’m right so far.
That was just about the only thing I was right about. Let me detail a few more of my predictions:
Guys to watch
Mauricio Cabrera, RP: Who? Mauricio Cabrera? Really, Denman? A relief pitcher in the ‘Guys to Watch’ section? Tantalized by his flame-spawning velocity (he averaged 100 mph with his four-seam fastball last year), and the Braves incredibly shallow bullpen, I thought he would be the regular closer by now. Here’s what he’s actually done: two rehab innings in High-A Florida, 18.2 innings in Triple-A Gwinnett with a 7.62 ERA and just 13 strikeouts.
Dansby Swanson, SS: Lieutenant Dans is pretty much a regular starter at this point, although the role hasn’t exactly suited him yet. His small sample of 145 plate appearances in 2016, during which he averaged .302 with a .361 on-base percentage, was just that, a small sample. He’s now slashing .218/.300/.336 through 270 plate appearances. He’s a little unlucky, suggested by his .264 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). The good news is, his strikeout and walks rates have actually improved by 1.2 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively. His 6 home runs illustrate his limited power tool, which means he’ll have to adjust to hitting to all fields at the risk of remaining an easy out.
Julio Teheran, SP: The Braves’ ace is not preforming like one. Teheran has a 4.86 ERA this season. His ERA is performing in roughly the same percentile as some teams’ No. 3 and No. 4 starters. We all knew the Braves’ rotation be lackluster, but I, for one, thought this guy would be a little more, well, luster.
Veterans who matter
Freddie Freeman, 1B: A moment of silence for Frederick. Freeman hasn’t played a single game since fracturing his wrist about one month ago. Before that, the Braves’ first baseman look like he was a NL MVP contender.
But now the Braves have Matt Adams. Hasn’t he been fantastic? Since joining the Braves on May 20, Adams is hitting .299/.356/.636 with nine homers, seven doubles and 25 RBIs through 118 plate appearances. Back to the topic of BABIP, Adams’ is posting a whopping .374 BABIP through 2017. Yikes! We have enough data through Adams’ five big league seasons to know he reaches base closer to one in every three balls in play, not the nearly four in every 10 batted balls his BABIP suggests. Still, not bad for a guy who the Braves hope will be a serviceable backup when Freeman is off the DL. The bigger dilemma, perhaps, where the heck does he play when Freeman gets back?
New kids (or vets) in town
Bartolo Colon, RA Dickey, Jaime Garcia, SP: The breakdown here is pretty simple. Colon and Dickey, bad. Garcia, good. But that’s not why I bring up this trio.
I’ve seen some Braves fans cherry picking these moves on social media, with statements along the lines of, “the Braves’ rotation could be Teheran, Alex Wood, Sean Newcomb, Lucas Sims and Jaime Garcia (had the Braves not traded Wood for Matt Kemp last season).”
I understand the angst here. Former University of Georgia and Braves pitcher Wood is posting a 1.90 ERA for the Dodgers this year and striking out almost 11 batters per nine innings pitched. But you can’t take Garcia without Colon and Dickey. These three signings were part of the same strategy: buy low, sell high. Had the Braves still controlled Alex Wood, would the front office prioritized signing so many cheap pitchers?
I get the feeling the Braves front office had very low expectations for all three of these guys, just as mostly everyone did heading into the season. But look at Garcia. A 3.59 ERA while allowing 1.26 walks and hits per inning pitched. What more could you ask for?
Actually, that’s exactly what the Braves will ask for in late July when the trade deadline begins to loom. Don’t get your hopes up, folks. The 30-year-old lefty who struggles to miss bats isn’t going to fetch a hefty price, even in terms of prospects. Still, his value only rises as his ERA falls.