1. The Future is Indeed Bright
Yes, the Braves are 7 games back in division behind the hated Nationals. Nobody likes it, but considering what was projected prior to the season, the Braves have exceeded expectations. All of these trades that seemed like nonsense to some 4 months ago seem to make a little more sense now. Shelby Miller has been an abosolute stud for the Braves this season and was the only Brave to make the All-Star game this season. He is boasting a 2.38 ERA and is absolutely dominant nearly every time he walks on the mound. Heyward has been good for the Cardinals, but considering he will be testing free agency this offseason, Miller was the real prize in the trade. However, we also got a young stud named Tyrell Jenkins in the deal. Jenkins has been dealing in AA and has recently been promoted to AAA. A lot of starters struggle with the transition, but Jenkins showed no signs of that throwing 7 strong without giving up a run in his AAA debut. The Braves clearly got the best of the deal and it is just a small example of what John Hart did all offseason. He rebuilt our entire farm system and stockpiled pitching. The Braves current rotation consists of Miller, Teheran, Wood, Wisler, and Perez. Not one of them is over 24 years of age. The Braves also have a load of stockpiled pitching prospects throughout the minor leagues now, so if they ever need to trade for a bat or perhaps one of the current pitchers is struggling, moves can be made. The Braves are extremely flexible in their farm and with their money. The trade that sent BJ Upton away cleared him off the books, and Dan Uggla will be coming off the books after this year. The mistakes of Frank Wren will finally be in the past. The farm system is rebuilt, and the Braves have money to spend. The future of the Braves is very bright.
2. The Contact Approach is Working
Even with all of the losses on offense, the Braves have been much better offensively. The Braves are currently hitting .256 on the season, which sits tied for 5th in the National League. They also have 347 runs this season and are well on their way to surpassing the 573 total runs they scored last season. The numbers this season have also been significantly lessened since the loss of Freddie Freeman. He is the anchor in the lineup, and the Braves desperately need him there. The offense has not been the same without Freeman, and the series with the Rockies proved just that. WE NEED FREDDIE BACK! But this is not about Freeman, this is about the new hitting approach the Braves are using. Kevin Seitzer came in as the new hitting coach this offseason and completely changed the approach of the hitters. No longer were fans going to see every hitter trying to tie the game with one swing of the bat. The new approach was more small ball. Get on base anyway possible and do whatever it takes to get a run across. There’s also a lot less strikeouts. Wasn’t there a movie about this made not too long ago? Most importantly the Braves have embraced Seitzer’s hitting approach and it has clearly payed off. Now the Braves just need a little more firepower in the lineup.
3. You Can Only Go as Far as Your Bullpen Will Take You
There is no reason in spending too much time on this. By now, everyone has heard about the Braves bullpen woes. It has been dreadful, and the Braves have tried to make changes to fix it. Unfortunately, things just have not panned out for the bullpen, and they have constantly let the Braves down night in and night out. They rank 29th in ERA and have lost the most games (21) by any bullpen in the MLB. Things just keep getting worse too. Jason Grilli recently suffered a torn achilles, ending his season. The Braves closer was 5th in the MLB in saves, and the injury will surely affect the Braves. Hopefully things get better in the second half, but it does not look good.
4. Cameron Maybin is Everything BJ Upton was Supposed to Be
Maybin is currently hitting .289 with 8 homers and 44 RBIs. He is also providing Gold Glove defense in the outfield. He has been terrific, but it has not always been that way for Maybin. He was the main piece the Marlins got in return for superstar Miguel Cabrera. He never panned out for the Marlins and was shipped to San Diego. He never really got going there, so the Padres shipped him here as an afterthought in the BJ Upton/Kimbrel trade. Well he is an afterthought no more. Maybin has been the best player this year from that trade. He has been terrific and has clearly embraced Kevin Seitzer’s hitting approach. When he first arrived in Atlanta, I had not watched him much, but from what I have seen in Maybin, he still has loads of untapped potential. He is now confident at the plate and in the field, and it shows. He can be the starting outfielder of the Braves future. He is everything BJ Upton was not.
5. Fredi Gonzalez and the Braves Need to Part Ways
Some try to credit the Braves’ exceeded expectations to Fredi Gonzalez. I’ve heard many say that “this is the type of club he works best with”. I just think these people are in denial that Fredi Gonzalez is simply not the guy. The bullpen hasn’t been effective, but you can credit a lot of their struggles to the poor utilization of our arms by Fredi. How many more times are we going to see Fredi use Luis Avilan in lefty-lefty situations? I’m not about to credit any type of success to Gonzalez. Roger McDowell has a reputation for being a great pitching coach, and Kevin Seitzer has done a great job as well. They deserve the credit. I can’t watch the emotionless Fredi stare when things go wrong any longer. Frank Wren was the scapegoat for last season’s collapse, but Fredi deserves a ton of the blame. You’re kidding yourself if you think his decision making isn’t a little… off. Frankly, I don’t care what Bobby Cox says anymore. Fredi is in the last year of his contract, and he shouldn’t be managing the Braves in 2016. The Braves have made it clear they want to compete for a championship when they’re in the midst of moving into their new stadium. If so, they cannot accept mediocrity when it comes to the man at the helm. Fredi may not even be mediocre.