The Braves can win the NL East because:
The Freddie Factor
Cold truth: The Braves were only 3 1/2 games back when Freeman hurt his wrist and then were 10-13 after he hit the disables list June 18. The anticipated return of the club’s most dangerous hitter by the end of the month could provide the jolt to power a second-half run.
The player who was supposed to be the most reliable element of the pitching staff has been all over the lot. Julio Teheran (6-4) has a 4.56 ERA that is over 1 1/2 runs higher than his All-Star season a year ago. Why? Take a number. But he’s suggested he’s coming around, yielding three or fewer earned runs in four of his past six starts. Seeing the 2014 Julio every fifth day recharges the rotation
That’s the Braves’ average with runners in scoring position, third-highest in the league and a 48-point improvement over last year. This has been steady in exploiting RBI situations. And no NL team has struck out less. They grind almost every night.
Cam & A.J.
Center fielder Cameron Maybin is having a career year. Despite sitting out 29 of the team’s first 89 games, catcher A.J. Pierzynski has become a critical component, batting .361 this month. They barely made a ripple on the transaction wire when they came to Atlanta, but it is hard to imagine where the Braves would be without these two newcomers. They can’t let up.
The Nats shall return
The Nationals were going nowhere during a 7-13 start until Dan Uggla’s three-run homer in the ninth April 28 delivered the Braves 13-12 loss, the season’s first bona fide head-smacker. Since then, the Nationals played 41-26 baseball into the break. That’s a .612 winning percentage. A guy could win a bet that the Nats won’t play .612 ball the rest of the way. Somewhere, some time, the Braves will get an opening.
The Braves can’t win the NL East because:
If a third-place team can have an indispensable player, the Braves lost him Saturday when their closer’s Achilles snapped. This bullpen has been been a truck full of nitro headed down a mountain road all along, but Grilli’s absence not only leaves the ninth inning vulnerable, but restacks manager Fredi Gonzalez’s lean set-up options. Not good.
The front office was unsettled, at least publicly, over whether the Braves will be buyers or sellers this month. But it is difficult to imagine John Hart pulling off a significant move to bolster this team by the trading deadline. Third baseman Juan Uribe turned out to be a nice pick-up. They’d need more than that.
The Royals demonstrated last summer that an under-powered team can still make it to the World Series. But that team looks like Atlas next to these Braves. Atlanta ranks last in the majors in home runs (57), 28th in extra-base hits (214) and 26th in slugging (.318). Station-to-station is a nice little game, but nobody singles their way into October.
Steep grade ahead
The fact is the Braves just finished the easy part of the course. Over the first half, 50 of their first 89 games (56 percent) came against teams currently under .500. They managed to go 27-23 against them. Of their final 73 games, 41 of those (56 percent) involve teams currently at .500 or better. That includes 19 dates against teams currently in first place. In fact, this could all be over fast. The Braves come out of the break with nine games against the Cubs, Dodgers and Cardinals.
For the record
History teaches that since the Braves came to town in 1966, they’ve posted losing records at the All-Star break 22 times. Only five of those teams recovered to finish with a winning season. Of those five, only one had a worse record than the 2015 club. The 1966 Braves were 41-47 at the break and finished 85-77. That team had Henry Aaron, Joe Torre, Rico Carty and Felipe Alou. This team does not.