COMMENTARY | The 2013 MLB season has just passed the ¼ mark with teams and players now beginning to show their true colors. So far, the Atlanta Braves have been hot, cold and everywhere in between. As the Braves begin to race towards the All-Star break, let's take a moment to project the rest of the season with a classic game of Over/Under. Which players are ready to hit their goals, and who will fall miserably short?
Atlanta Braves Record +/- 96 wins?
Over the past five seasons, it has taken an average of 96.4 wins to claim the NL East crown. While the Braves have a tentative one-game grasp on the division, the Washington Nationals appear to be a team who is not going away anytime soon. Atlanta is currently on pace to reach 93 wins this season, however their first forty games have been much tougher than the rest of their schedule should prove to be. The Braves played 26 of their first 40 games on the road en route to hosting the fewest home games of any team in baseball through the first ¼ of the season. Their .571 winning percentage should be thought of as their floor, not their ceiling as their schedule balances out with more home games. Over 96 wins
Over/Under 4 Wins Without a Home Run?
Through the first month and change of the schedule, Atlanta has lived and died by the long ball. Of their 24 victories, 23 of them came during a game in which at least one Braves' player put the ball where no outfielder could go find it. In fact, the Braves have hit so many early-season home runs that I hear they have reached out to Harry Doyle to become the new play-by-play commentator just to give Chip Caray help with all the extra home run calls. "If that's not Shaquille O'Neal in left, that baby's out of here…And Heyward swings and crushes one towards South America. Tomlinson is going to need a Visa to catch this one." It's should come as no surprise that teams already have a game plan when facing the Braves: keep them in the yard and you will get a W.
Situational hitting has been an Achilles heel for the Braves in 2013. They rank No. 2 in the National League with 55 team home runs, yet, 32 of those round-trippers have been of the solo variety. The Braves have struggled getting runners on base, and have had an even tougher time driving them in when they do. Atlanta is hitting just .235 with runners in scoring position. Justin Upton leads all of baseball with 14 home runs; however, in 11 of those instances he has been circling the bases alone.
One would have to assume this is too crazy of a stat to hold true all season long. Particularly in the NL, where the motto is "get 'em on, get 'em over, get 'em in," the Braves have to do a better job of playing small ball at some point. Four wins without a home run isn't exactly asking a lot. Hopefully the Braves fail spectacularly in this category due to the fact they simply don't have another homerless game the rest of the way; however, if the Braves do find themselves in the midst of a Turner Field power outage, let's hope they can muster at least half a dozen or so wins the old fashioned way. Over 4 Wins without a Home Run
Justin Upton +/- 51 Home Runs?
When the Braves traded with the Arizona Diamondbacks for the privilege of Justin Upton's services, they knew they were getting a good player, but the 25-year-old slugger has been even better than advertised. Upton started his Braves career by breaking the all-time Atlanta record for home runs in the month of April when he started the year off by belting 12 bombs. Since then, Upton has cooled considerably; however, he does still lead the league in big flies with 14.
It may surprise some to learn that it is not Hank Aaron or Chipper Jones who has Atlanta's all-time single-season record for home runs, but rather, the 51 Andruw Jones hit in 2005 still sits at the Braves' high-water mark. Upton is currently on track to squeak by Jones with 54 gopher balls, but he will need to get hot again. The warm weather has yet to hit Hot 'Lanta, so logic dictates that more homers will be coming to a grandstand near you very soon. Still, 51 home runs is a tall over in the post-steroid era of Major League Baseball that we find ourselves in today. In the past five seasons, only one player (Jose Bautista, 54, in 2010) has hit more than 50 home runs. Under 51 Home Runs for Justin Upton
Over/Under a .200 Average for B.J. Upton?
B.J. Upton has dug himself quite the hole this season. After signing the richest contract in franchise history, Upton has rewarded Atlanta fans with a .145 average through his first 138 at-bats. Given the projected number of ABs Upton is likely to get the rest of the way - assuming he doesn't get benched before that - he would need to hit .215 over the remainder of the season to punch his ticket to Mario Mendoza's not-so-exclusive .200 club.
Since Upton has been a career .251 hitter over the course of his first eight MLB seasons, .215 should be a walk in the park for him - "should be" being the operative words. In reality, Upton has looked completely overmatched by pitchers this season and appears to have developed a noticeable hitch in his swing which has made him late in reacting. The Braves' hitting coach, Greg Walker, may have the toughest job in all of baseball right now with this group of free-swinging hitters the Braves have. God I Hope, Over a .200 Average for B.J Upton...but I Doubt It.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter based in "Braves Country." He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
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