The Atlanta Braves not only limped into the All-Star break, they figuratively tripped and fell, or crashed and burned, depending how you look at it.
They lost their last five games to last-place teams in the National League (Milwaukee and Colorado) to fall to 42-47 and five games behind Washington in the NL East standings. In the midst of that losing streak, the Braves lost closer Jason Grilli for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon when he tried to run to first on a defensive play and fell to the ground writhing in pain.
They face an uphill battle in the last 71 games to catch a Nationals team that has a potent lineup and solid starting pitching. Atlanta is eight games behind Washington (48-39) in the loss column and five behind a New York Mets (47-42) team that won four straight heading into the All-Star break.
If the Braves do not show signs of life coming out of the break, they may succumb to make moves to help their future by the July 31 trading deadline. Grilli was the most talked about possibility as a player in the trading market for Atlanta.
Now it appears the best trading option is 28-year-old center fielder Cameron Maybin, who is enjoying his best season since 2011 with a .289 batting average with eight home runs and a team-high 44 RBI. He is also injury prone which means Atlanta may try to avoid having to pay him $8 million next season if he can’t suit up.
Graphic via albanyherald
The Braves have shown they are movers and shakers this season with three different midseason trades, most notably the seven-player trade from the Los Angeles Dodgers that landed them third baseman Juan Uribe and right-hander Chris Withrow. Third baseman Albert Callaspo was the centerpiece of the trade to the Dodgers for his defense. He was only batting .202 for Atlanta at the time of the trade.
Atlanta ranks fifth in the National League with a team batting average of .256 but the powerless Braves rank last with 57 home runs and are 10th among 15 teams with 329 RBI.
First baseman Freddie Freeman stands out the most batting .299 with team-best 12 home runs (very low at the All-Star break) and 41 RBI. Another twist of bad luck near the All-Star break: Freeman suffered a wrist injury in late June that put him on the 15-day disabled list.
He should come back soon after the break but the Braves will evaluate closely his wrist and their situation in the standings when they make that decision. Team officials reportedly don’t want to rush him back and pay the consequences of further injury rather than let him rest and get it stronger for his career ahead.
Atlanta’s pitching at the All-Star break is mired with inconsistency. The Braves rank 11th among the 15 National League teams in quality starts. Grilli bolstered the bullpen with 24 saves and a 2.94 ERA in 33 2/3 innings. He was one of four relievers with an ERA under 4.00. Only two others – right-handers Williams Perez and Jim Johnson – have an ERA below 3.00.
The Braves have two quality starters with right-hander Shelby Miller (5-5 with a 2.38 ERA) and left-hander Alex Wood (6-6, 3.76) but the rotation drops significantly thereafter, which is bad news if Atlanta wants to leap over New York and Washington in the NL East standings.
The schedule down the stretch is an ally for Atlanta.
If Atlanta manages to stay in the race, the Braves have plenty of meetings with the Nationals and Mets to make some noise in the NL East after the calendar turns to September. The play each team seven times or 14 of their last 31 games.
The Braves also play the hapless Phillies and Marlins 11 times starting Sept. 1, which puts them in a favorable spot. A season-ending three-game series at St. Louis looks daunting. Atlanta hopes the Cardinals will wrap up a playoff spot by then and rest their regulars.
Graphic via rantsports