Good first half for Braves, now comes real test

Good first half for Braves, now comes real test

 

Now that we’ve been subjected to the usual how-to-fix-baseball musings of writers and others with no games to write or watch and too much time on their hands during the All-Star break, it’s time to get back to the business of hand, which for the Braves is the matter of determining just how far down the road they are in this rebuild and whether it’s time to be buyers, sellers or both before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

As good as Matt Adams has been since the Braves traded for him after Freddie Freeman got hurt, it makes some sense to trade him before the July 31 non-waiver deal deadline if a contender is willing to part with prospects or another piece that could help the Braves long-term. (AP photo)

I happen to think they’ll be both, and by that I mean they’ll probably trade at least two or three from the group of veterans that includes first baseman Matt Adams, second baseman Brandon Phillips, reliever Jim Johnson and lefty starter Jaime Garcia and could even entertain offers for Julio Teheran, but only if they can get a similarly accomplished starting pitcher with multiple affordable seasons of contractual control similar to what Teheran has.

A Chris Archer or Sonny Gray, for instance. But the price will be steep, with perhaps too many contenders involved and willing to make unreasonable offers if they believe such a pitcher will put them over the top this season. (Jose Quintana met that description and the Braves were in on him in trade talks this past week, but the Cubs paid more than the Braves were willing to part with in terms of prospects.)

Problem with that Teheran scenario is that, while a contender might overpay and give the Braves a couple of top prospects for Teheran, the Braves in turn would surely have to give up multiple top prospects to get either Gray or Archer or anyone else that might pop up as available before July 31. So do you keep the guy you know, who’s not as consistent as you want and who is maddeningly mediocre (or worse) at times but dominant at others, or trade for a guy you don’t know who might end up being no better and cost you prospects that could end up being better than those you acquire for trading the guy you know. If that makes any sense. My head is spinning after writing it, so it probably doesn’t.

Can’t blow a hole in your rotation long-term by trading Teheran unless you replace him with a similar pitcher with contractual control. Not unless you want to be in the same position you were in a year ago, having to buy multiple placeholders for next year’s rotation while your top prospects move ever closer to being ready but can’t reasonsably be counted on to be there out of spring training without potentially being rushed.

Anyway, trading Brandon Phillips, much as I’d hate to see him go because I genuinely like having him around, and/or Matt Adams makes more sense by the day as Johan Camargo continues to show he’s not just major league-ready, but might be a good everyday lineup option for the long term, and as Sean Rodriguez continues rehabbing in the high minors and moves closer to joining the Braves, perhaps by the end of July, and giving their bench a big boost while providing another starting option at not just three positions like Camargo, but at four, including first base.

If the Braves trade Adams they can move Freeman back to first base, play Camargo at third, have a much better defense than they do with Adams at first base and Freeman at third base, and by the end of July perhaps have Rodriguez at second, with Ozzie Albies waiting in the wings as the switch-hitting second-base prospect continues working on his left-handed swing under the tutelage of special assistant Chipper Jones and Gwinnett hitting coach John Moses.

Anyway, getting back to the season. It’s about to get a lot tougher, folks.

The Braves should feel good about their record in the first half. Really good. They surpassed expectations, especially considering they played seven weeks without their best player and a guy who was on an MVP-type pace before he got hurt. They won 20 of their last 35 games before the break and got within one game of .500 a week before the break with a sweep at Oakland that raised Atlanta’s record to 40-41.

Then they got a wakeup when they got outscored 26-8 in two home games against the Astros before splitting a series at D.C., with Freeman back in the lineup and raking again for those last six games before the break.

The Braves’ schedule in the last five weeks before the break was a walk in the park compared with their schedule in the first 32 games after the break, beginning with a weekend series at SunTrust Park against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Diamondbacks’ 53-36 record would make them the division leader in four of six MLB divisions, all but the one they’re in, the NL West — they’re 7 ½ games behind the Dodgers – and the one that’s led by the juggernaut Astros, the AL West, where Houston’s majors-best 60-29 record gives them a mammoth 16 ½-game lead over the second-place Angels and Rangers.

The D-backs will be followed into SunTrust Park by the Cubs, a major disappointment at 43-45, a mere half-game better than the Braves at the break. But the Cubs this week showed how serious they are about making a second-half run at the NL Central title – they trail the Brewers by 5 ½ games – when they traded a package that included two elite prospects for White Sox lefty Quintana.

Does anyone at all believe the Cubs won’t be significantly better than .500 in the second half? That they won’t make another move or two if needed to shore up their underperforming pitching? The Braves will have to play well to win that series, I firmly believe.

After the six home games against the D-backs and Cubs, it’s into the fryer when the Braves open a grueling 11-game, 12-day trip by traveling West for a four-game long-weekend series at Dodger Stadium, where the Dodgers are a majors-best 39-11. (Boston, at 25-14, is the only other team with fewer than 15 home losses; even the Astros have lost 18 home games.)

Dodger Stadium always rocks on the weekends, and the Braves will need to be at their best to avoid a bad start to a long trip. And when they leave L.A. it’ll be to go to the blast furnace of Phoenix in July and a three-game series at thankfully domed and air-conditioned (whatever that stadium is named now). The Dodgers have the best home record in baseball and guess who has the second-best? Yes, the D-backs. They are a game under .500 on the road, but at home Arizona is 33-15.

So, that’s seven games in seven days out West against the two teams with the best home records in baseball. Mercifully, that demanding week is followed by a day off before the Braves end the trip in Philly with another four-game series (this one a Friday through Monday set) against the woeful Phillies, who are truly terrible at 29-58. No other MLB team had fewer than 34 wins at the All-Star break, and the Phillies are 22 ½ games behind the division-leading Nationals and 10 ½ behind the fourth-place Mets. Like we said, awful.

Of course, that could also be viewed as a trap series, with the Braves going through the wringer of L.A. and Arizona and then having a day off before facing the Worst Team in Baseball. Need to at least win three of four at Philly to end that trip and finish what figures to be a difficult trip on a good note. And don’t forget, the Phillies are 5-2 against the Braves and split a four-game series at SunTrust in early June.

Because guess who the Braves face when they return from that nearly two-week trip? That’d be the Dodgers, who are at SunTrust Park for the first three nights in August. Then there’s a bit of a break in the schedule with three at home against the Marlins and two against the Phillies, with off days on either side of the Aug. 8-9 two-game home series vs. the Phillies. After that it’s on the road again for a seven-game trip to St. Louis and Colorado including four games against a Rockies team that’s currently 26-18 at home.

Bottom line, the next 32 games are going to be a grind for the Braves, far more difficult than stretch they had leading to the break, during which the Braves played a mere 12 out of 36 games against teams with winning records, including seven against the Nationals, two against the Astros and three against the Brewers. They won four of those seven vs. the Nats, lost two of three to the Brewers and got crushed in two home games against the ‘Stros.

A dozen games vs. winning teams out of 36 games leading to the break. Now 17 such games in a 32-game stretch coming out of the break, with seven of those coming against arguably the best team in the NL, the Dodgers, and six coming against the team with the second-best record in the NL, the D-backs. And of the 15 games against sub-.500 teams during that 32-game stretch, six are against the defending World Series champion Cubs and the Cardinals, who are each 43-45 at the break, a half-game better than the Braves.

So that leaves just nine games in a 32-game stretch against what might be considered bad teams, the Marlins and the Phillies, and the Braves are a combined 7-8 against those teams this season.

The Braves in the first half surpassed expectations, especially while Freeman was out. But now comes the real test.

• Let’s close with this classic from the great Bill  Withers. Because baseball is back after a four-day break, so it’s indeed a lovely day.

“LOVELY DAY” by Bill Withers

Bill Withers

When I wake up in the morning, love
And the sunlight hurts my eyes
And something without warning, love
Bears heavy on my mind

Then I look at you
And the world’s alright with me
Just one look at you
And I know it’s gonna be
A lovely day
… lovely day, lovely day, lovely day …

When the day that lies ahead of me
Seems impossible to face
When someone else instead of me
Always seems to know the way

Then I look at you
And the world’s alright with me
Just one look at you
And I know it’s gonna be
A lovely day…..

When the day that lies ahead of me
Seems impossible to face
When someone else instead of me
Always seems to know the way

Then I look at you
And the world’s alright with me
Just one look at you
And I know it’s gonna be
A lovely day……



Full article @ Good first half for Braves, now comes real test

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ


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