1. Braves must find a combination that works in the bullpen
It is no secret the Braves bullpen has struggled so far this season. They currently have the 29th ranked bullpen in the MLB out of 30 teams. It has been that bad. Not to mention the Braves now have to deal with the loss of Jason Grilli, who was injured 2 games prior to the All-Star break. Grilli was one of the good guys in the bullpen, as he was 5th in the MLB in saves with 24 and boasted a 2.94 ERA. Jim Johnson will assume the closing role at the start of the second half of the season. He has been great thus far this season, but the Braves have to find a combination of guys that can get them to the 9th inning. Vizcaino has looked good since returning from suspension, so expect him to see a much bigger role going forward. Manny Banuelos is on an innings limit, so it’s likely he is converted to the bullpen when William Perez returns. However, the biggest weak spot for the Braves in their bullpen is their left-handed relief. The Braves have been relying on Luis Avilan to get out lefty hitters all season, and it is time to quit with that experiment. Avilan is a decent lefty relief pitcher, but his numbers against lefty hitters this season has been dismal. Lefty hitters are hitting .313 so far this season against him, and the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Andrew McKirahan is a left handed pitcher returning from suspension for the Braves. He experienced success early in the season for the Braves, so perhaps he can be a reliable left handed option out of the pen. Josh Outman has also began rehabbing in the minors. If they can’t find an effective lefty, the Braves are going to have to find relief elsewhere, or they will end up out of the race completely sooner rather than later.
2. Freddie Freeman must return healthy and better than ever
There is no doubt Freeman is the anchor to the Braves offense, especially with all these young faces around him. He is the only real power hitter in the lineup and without him the Braves offense has not been the same. Freeman is expected to return shortly and surely will give the Braves offense a boost, but if the Braves want to make a serious run at a playoff spot, Freeman will have to be at his best. He is hitting .299 with 12 homers and 41 RBIs this season, which are typical Freddie Freeman numbers, but those will not get the job done. If the Braves want to win now, Freddie is going to have to have MVP type numbers down the stretch of the season. I believe Freddie has the potential to take the next step into the league’s elite, and now would be a great time for him to take that step.
3. The veterans have to keep giving steady production
When Johns Hart became the GM, his number one goal was to establish a future for the Braves organization. He was not supposed to breed a winning team right away, but nobody likes not competing for a whole season. So he went out and got a lot of veteran guys to shape the ball club for the future and help contribute to winning now. Well Hart’s plan worked, as these veterans have carried the Braves. If it not for a few things going the wrong way, the Braves could be much closer to the division lead. However, things are what they are and these veterans have to keep contributing like they have been if the Braves want to see the playoffs this season. AJ Pierzynski has been terrific. He came in expecting spot starts behind Christian Bethancourt, but came in and took the starting job away with his great play. He currently is hitting .283 with 6 homers and 30 RBIs. Also, guys like Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe, and Nick Markakis have produced wonders for the Braves. They have been great role models in the clubhouse and have produced on the field. This needs to continue for the Braves to make a run at the playoffs.
4. Alex Wood and Julio Teheran need to step up their games
When the season began, Teheran and Wood were at the top of the starting rotation. Teheran was coming off an All-Star season in 2014, but that season also included a dismal second half. Wood was probably the Braves most consistent starter in 2014. Even though he received very little run support he boasted an ERA of 2.78 for the season. He was great, but both of these guys did not have the best first halves. Teheran is 6-4 with a 4.56 ERA and Wood is 6-6 with a 3.76 ERA. Teheran has been outstanding at home, with a 2.04 ERA and a 5-0 record. Things have not been the same on the road, as he owns a 6.95 ERA in 10 road starts. He is going to have to eliminate his road struggles for the Braves to get the production they expect from Teheran. These numbers are far from what these two are capable of producing. Both of these pitchers are young and improving, but the Braves need them to anchor the rotation now. They have proven they can do it in the past, and they both have the capability to be aces in the second half of the season. The Braves need that in order to catch the Nationals.