Remember when the Braves’ offense was the worst in the majors, so bad that some observers – a lot, actually – opined that Freddie Freeman didn’t sign on for this and probably would ask to be traded and the Braves should comply?
Sure you remember. It was only a few months ago.
Well, seems as if no one is saying that anymore. Any of it. If they are, they’re not saying it aloud.
The Braves’ offense underwent a rather remarkable midseason transformation, going from worst to first in the majors in some major categories. Not from one season to the next but within the same season, which is extremely unusual.
After ranking last in the majors before the All-Star break in batting average (.237), 28th in on-base percentage (.300), last in slugging percentage (.349) and last in OPS (.649), the Braves since the break ranked first in average (.278), first in OBP (.346), ninth in slugging percentage (.426) and third in OPS (.773) before Monday, an off day in their schedule.
They went from last in scoring (3.45 runs per game) before the break to seventh (4.70) since the break, one spot ahead of the Cubs (4.58) before Monday. Freddie Freeman has been one of the majors’ best two or three hitters since early June and leadoff man Ender Inciarte leads the majors in hits since the break.
“It all starts with the players and with our coaching staff,” Braves general manager John Coppolella said, citing the work of hitting coaches Kevin Seitzer and assistant Jose Castro. “Give credit to guys that are working hard even though our record is what it is. You’re seeing a lot of guys come out early for hitting and doing the little things.”
More than half of the regular lineup got hot by June or July – Freeman, Inciarte, Adonis Garcia, Nick Markakis, Jace Peterson — and most of those players continued to excel until now, entering the last homestand at Turner Field and final games of a Braves season that went from miserable to encouraging, in terms of the offense.
When the Braves traded for Matt Kemp and added him to the lineup Aug. 2, it helped take an already improving offense to another level. And rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson has also been a steady contributor since arriving from the minors.
“What we’re doing is pretty spectacular,” Freeman said, when asked if this stretch raises expectations for the offense going into the 2017 season. “Over 162 games you’re going to have your ups and downs. But it’s very encouraging. It’s just at the beginning of the year none of us were hitting. And then once everybody started to hit — Ender started to do what he normally did (in the past) and then Adonis has been huge in the 2-hole, and obviously Matt lengthening the lineup, moving Nick down; Nick’s been an RBI machine.
“It’s been a huge turnaround for us and it’s super encouraging. I think a lot of people are excited around here about going into next year.”
The Braves are 26-24 with a .280 batting average, 49 homers and 257 runs in 50 games since Kemp joined the lineup, and the veteran outfielder has played in all 50 games (49 starts) and hit .287 with 13 doubles, 10 homers and 35 RBIs. In the past 40 games, Kemp has hit .306 with 20 extra-base hits, a .356 OBP and .544 slugging percentage.
“Obviously adding Matt Kemp, who’s been awesome in every way, has been really good for the lineup just to give a little more balance,” Coppolella said. “But give credit to Matt, to Freddie, to Nick, Ender, Adonis, Tyler, all the guys. Jace, Dansby. I think adding Kemp kind of put the pieces in place.”
Freeman was already blazing before the trade for Kemp, but the Braves’ franchise player has been even more productive since the big man arrived and starting batting cleanup behind him. Freeman, named National League Player of the Week on Monday for the third time since mid-June, is riding a 28-game hitting streak and a 44-game on-base streak, both the longest active streaks in the majors and the second-longest this season in each category.
The Braves are 19-13 with a .292 average, 173 runs and 31 homers in their past 32 games, the bats offsetting a 4.79 ERA over that period. The runs tapered off a little bit while the pitching improved during a season-high seven-game winning streak that ended Saturday.
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