COMMENTARY | The Atlanta Braves have hit a rough patch lately, going 6-9 in the 15 games leading up the series in Milwaukee, in which they were shut out for the 10th and 11th times this season. Braves fans have a tendency to adopt a "Chicken Little" attitude in times like this but as we approach the halfway point of the season, there is still more cause for optimism than for alarm.
Here are some reasons why:
Starting Pitching - Braves starters have had another excellent year, ranking in the top 10 in the majors in almost every major statistical category. A traditional strength for Atlanta, the starting pitching should continue to be great.
Freddie Freeman - It looks like Freddie has arrived. In his third full year as the Braves' first baseman, Freeman has put together a stat line that supports the scouting reports that raved about his bat and glove when the Braves made him their second-round draft choice in 2007.
The Miami Marlins - Atlanta plays the Miami Marlins, the worst team in the National League, 16 times in the second half of the season. Say what you will about the unbalanced schedule, but in this instance it's a huge advantage for the Braves.
Frank Wren - Since becoming general manager in 2007, Frank Wren has shown an ability to find value in the trade market and take steps to make the team better midseason. As the trade deadline approaches, look for that trend to continue as one of the best GMs in the game looks to fill holes and shore up the bench and bullpen.
Second-half schedule - In addition to the huge number of games against the hapless Marlins, Atlanta plays the majority of its second-half games at home. As I wrote about earlier, the Braves have been a considerably better team at Turner Field, which bodes well for a playoff run.
The starting lineup - Some of the players the Braves were depending on to have big years haven't played up to par thus far. Look for at least some of these players to improve as the season goes on; it is highly improbable that their careers are all collapsing at the same time.
Depth - The struggles of some of the starters have given bench players opportunities to step up, and in most cases they have. Players like Ramiro Peña, Jordan Schafer, and fan-favorite Evan Gattis have shown an ability to win games for the Braves when called upon.
Fredi Gonzalez - Braves fans have a tendency to criticize Gonzalez when a move doesn't work out, but they remain silent when he does something right. Despite how you feel about his managerial decisions, he is an even-keeled manager not prone to overreaction, a quality that lends itself to sustained success.
The bullpen - Atlanta leads the majors in bullpen ERA, and is in the top five in almost every other category. Despite tough injuries to Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters, the relief corps continues to be one of the best in baseball.
Craig Kimbrel - The anchor of that bullpen continues to excel. It was unlikely that Craig Kimbrel would repeat his numbers from last season; they were almost impossibly good. But he continues to be one of the two or three closers in baseball. If the Braves have the lead going to the ninth, odds are they're keeping it.Joe Thomas was raised and lives within shouting distance of Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves. He is the sports editor for The Sting, the student newspaper of Southern Polytechnic State University.
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