NL Contender Watch: Atlanta Braves
NEW YORK– By Jason Greenfield
Strengths: Balanced Offense, Bullpen
Concern: Starting Pitching Health
The Atlanta Braves are situated in second place in the NL East and are also in first place in the Wild Card race with a record of 70-50. The Braves are a well-rounded offensive team and have a solid bullpen with an above average starting pitching staff. The offense ranks 8th in runs, 9th in on base percentage, and 15th in batting average. The Braves are not a team that relies on one player for offense; they have many different players leading the team in different offensive categories. Martin Prado leads the team with a .297 average, Jason Heyward is the team leader in home runs with 20 and Freddie Freeman leads the team with 76 RBIs.
When one talks about the Atlanta Braves one has to mention Larry “Chipper” Jones. The future Hall of Famer and this year’s All-Star game representative is having a very nice last year of his career. In 78 games, Chipper is making a contribution to the Braves offense, batting .313 with 13 home runs and 54 RBIs.
Another strength for the Braves is their bullpen. The Braves rank 4th in the league with a 3.01 era and have allowed the 8th fewest earned runs. The Braves, like the Reds, have a go to guy and x-factor in the bullpen in their closer, Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel, who was also last year’s rookie of the year, and whom many analysts consider the best closer in baseball, has 31 saves and has an amazing 1.20 ERA. Kimbrel also has an astounding 15.80 strikeouts per nine innings(K/9), which ranks second in the MLB.
Kimbrel also gets strong setup help from relievers like Eric O’Flaherty, who has 19 holds and a 2.32 ERA and Jonny Venters, who has struggled a bit this season after an elbow injury. Chad Durbin is another reliever who has had a nice season with a 4-1 record with a 3.04 ERA.
One of the major concerns with the Atlanta Braves is the health of their starting pitching. The Braves starting pitching is above average in many categories but a lack of strong health is troubling. Currently, ace Tommy Hanson is on the DL with a back injury. Before the injury prone righty hit the DL, he led the team with wins (12) and strikeouts (114). The Braves also lost their young starter Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery for the rest of the year.
The Braves now look to the 37-year-old Tim Hudson to lead the staff, and he has done so admirably. With all of the injuries suffered, there has been a bright spot for the Braves in their starting pitching role. Ben Sheets, who has not pitched since July 2010, has pitched excellent this year and his success has come from nowhere, especially considering he said he was retired after his Tommy John Surgery. He gives the Braves someone to lean on until Hanson comes back.
They are hoping that Ben Sheets can continue to give them the outings they are getting out of him, and also they are hoping Kris Medlen, the converted starter, can continue his recent success as a starter as well. This can be a lot to ask for when playoff time comes around, and these starters face the better hitting teams.