The Atlanta Braves had their best month of the season to date in June, with a 17-9 record for the month, finishing out the month with an overall record of 47-35, despite dealing with a lot of injuries to key players and an overall inept offense for most of the month.
The Braves record has improved every month of the season, going from 13-15 in April to 17-11 in May, and now 17-9 in June. That’s one trend I would love to see continue as the Braves get healthier and hopefully some guys starting hitting like we know they can. (*Cough Dan Uggla *Cough)
The Braves feasted on the American League in June, going 7-2 in interleague play against the Rangers, Blue Jays, and Mariners. The Braves lost two of three to Texas, but swept both Toronto and Seattle.
The Braves are off to a hot start to July, winning three of their four games and pushing their overall record to 50-36. They currently have the third best record in all of baseball behind just the Phillies and Yankees.
This team has shown flashes all season long of what they are truly capable of. They have one of the best rotations and bullpens in all of baseball, they just need the offense to start carrying its share of the load if they truly want a shot at catching the Phillies in the NL East, and making a serious run at their first World Series title since 1995.
The Braves are in a much better position at the end of June than they were at the end of May, as they surpassed the Marlins for 2nd place in the division, and currently hold a four game lead for the Wildcard.
I know we are already a few days into July, but we can still go back and review the month that was inAtlanta.
While the Braves offense struggled as a whole in June, there were a few bright spots for the lineup, specifically Brian McCann.
McCann is on a tear offensively, and is tossing his name in to the early season MVP conversation. For the month, McCann hit .342 with 8 HR’s and 18 RBI. He had a .435 OBP, and an otherworldly 1.106 OPS.
McCann has carried the offense on his back for most of the season, and has really been the only consistent hitter in the lineup. I’ll talk more about McCann later.
Martin Prado was hitting the ball well before a staph infection ended his month after just 5 games. He was six for his first twenty with a homerun. The hope is that Prado will return before the middle of the month.
Freddie Freeman has gotten into the major league groove, after taking some lumps in the early part of the season. The adjustment period has past, and Freeman hit .287 in June, with 4 homers, and 17 RBI.
The Braves getting Jason Heyward back was a big part of the month, and Heyward seems to be getting back to his 2010 form. Heyward hit just .098 in May before being put on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, but he came back in June to hit .264. A lot of young players have experienced sophomore slumps similar to what Heyward is going through in 2011, but something tells me he is going to have a huge second half.
After those three guys, there wasn’t much good for the offense in June. The pitching however was great again throughout the month. The Braves team era went up from its outstanding 2.91 in May, but it posted another strong 3.21 ERA in June.
The Braves overall 3.07 team ERA is tops in the MLB, even better than the heralded Phillies. The pitching staff is also tied for first in all of baseball with the Giants with a .231 BAA.
The Braves rotation has given 53 quality starts, which is third in the National League, and tied for fourth in all of baseball.
Brandon Beachy, Tommy Hanson, and Tim Hudson all had ERA’s below 3 for the month, with Beachy leading the way with a 1.50 ERA in his two starts back from the DL.
Jair Jurrjens had his worst month of the season with a 3.30 ERA, but it’s still a very solid month for a guy that has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball in 2011.
Craig Kimbrel has nailed down his spot as the team’s closer, with a spectacular month of June. He had a 1.93 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and had 8 saves. He also struck out 25 batters in just 14 innings of work.
Eric O’Flaherty, Scott Linebrink, and George Sherrill all had strong months out of the bullpen with 0.82, 1.50, and 2.70 ERA’s respectively.
The bad was once again the Braves offensive woes. They had statistically their worst month of the season at the dish, despite the team posting its best monthly record of the season thus far.
I thought the offensive was possibly finding its groove in May, improving from a .231 average in April to a .258 in May. But, it all came crashing back down in June, as the Braves hit just .222 for the month. Their OBP was also a monthly worst of .290, as was their OPS of .678.
When you look at those numbers, it’s hard to believe the Braves played over .600 baseball in June. They’re going to need a lot more production from the offense, if they want to be taken seriously as contenders.
The Braves offensive struggles were highlighted once again by none other than Dan Uggla, who is still batting well below theMendozaline. He hit just .182 in June, with 5 homers and 12 RBI. His OBP was just .250, and his OPS was just .629.
Surprisingly, Uggla didn’t have the worst month among the Braves regulars, with Alex Gonzalez being even worst. He splits in June of .176/.219/.526 were putrid.
If that wasn’t bad enough, all but three regulars hit .240 or below.
The Jordan Schafer/Nate McLouth argument is now in full force with Prado’s rehab coming merrily along. Neither player particularly helped themselves in June:
Schafer: .214 BA 1 HR 4 RBI 17 R 8 SB .260 OBP .576 OPS
McLouth: .192 BA 0 HR 1 RBI 2 R 1 SB .400 OBP .708 OPS
The argument for Schafer is that he’s hitting for a higher average, stealing more bases, and scoring more runs than McLouth. He also has better range and can cover more ground in centerfield.
The argument for McLouth is that despite hitting just .192 in June, his OBP was actually pretty good at .400, and he had a much higher OPS than Schafer. If Schafer wants to keep his spot in centerfield when Prado returns to the lineup, he’s going to have to start getting on base more frequently, mainly drawing walks.
McLouth drew two more walks than Schafer in June, despite having 72 less at-bats. Honestly, I don’t think any Braves fan is going to be particularly excited to see either one of them be the everyday centerfielder.
The pitching rotation was pretty solid other than Derek Lowe, as he posted another subpar month for the club with a 4.41 ERA.
The bullpen was good as a whole, but a few guys failed to carry their weight, specifically Scott Proctor and Cristhian Martinez.Martinezwas optioned to the minors, and Proctor remains on the big league club for reasons unbeknownst to me.
Jonny Venters had a pretty bad month for his standards. After going through April and May with an ERA well below 1, Venters had a 3.63 ERA in June.
The ugly was the offense yet again, mainly Uggla and Gonzalez, with both players hitting below .200 in June. But the offense as a whole was pretty ugly with the .222 batting average for the month.
Something has to give with Uggla. Where is the guy that absolutely torched the Braves when he was inFlorida? The All Star? The guy with 30+ homerun power? I’ve yet to see the guy the Braves spent 52-million dollars on.
We knew coming in that Uggla wasn’t a great average hitter, but I think any Braves fan would gladly take a .260 or so average from Uggla at this point. His defense was a necessary evil to deal with, but it’s actually been pretty good so far this season.
But he’s hitting a career worst .173 for the season. We’ve seen the kind of pop he has in his bat on occasion, and he has jacked out 12 homeruns so far, but he’s not coming close to the player that terrorizedAtlantafor years with the fish.
I still believe he’s going to break out at some point, and hopefully he has a huge second half, but I feel I might be being overly optimistic at this point. He can’t hit below .200 for a full season, right? Right? RIGHT? Anybody?
Alex Gonzalez has been another problem in the Braves order. He’s provided terrific defense at shortstop, but after an awful month of June, Gonzo is hitting .237 for the season. We’re also not seeing the kind of pop the Braves front office thought he had when they traded Yunel Escobar toTorontofor him last season.
He hit 17 homeruns in the first half for the Blue Jays last season, but he’s hit just 13 homeruns in a full season in a Braves uniform.
I love seeing the outstanding plays Gonzalez makes at shortstop, and how he makes high degree of difficulty plays look easy, but the Braves are going to need much more than a .237 average from him.
Hitter of the Month: Brian McCann
This one was easy. McCann has been the best player on the team all season long, and continued his great 2011 with a huge June. His .342 batting average in June raised his average for the season to .316. He’s hit 14 homeruns, driven in 47 runs, and has a .909 OPS.
He will be the starting catcher for the NL All Star team, and like I said earlier, he has to be on the short list of players in consideration for the NL MVP at the midway point of the season.
McCann is having statistically his best season of his big-league career, and in many people’s minds, has supplanted Joe Mauer as the best catcher in all of baseball.
He’s still just 27-years-old, and I believe his best baseball is still in front of him.
Pitcher of the Month: Tommy Hanson
Jair Jurrjens has received the most praise for what he has done this season, and rightfully so, but Tommy Hanson has been great so far in 2011, and put together another strong month in June.
Hanson was an undefeated 4-0 for the month, with a 2.16 ERA, and 1.04 WHIP. He had 32 strikeouts in 25.0 innings pitched.
I lamented yesterday about Hanson not being named to the All Star team. It’s a crime that the likes of Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum were selected over Hanson despite Hanson putting up better numbers.
He’s 10-4 now after a great performance on the fourth of July againstColorado, and he lowered his ERA to 2.52. He also has the team lead in WHIP at 1.04.
Hanson and Jurrjens have been as good as any 1-2 punch in baseball this season, and these two guys could anchor the Braves rotation for many years to come.
The Braves are off to a solid start in July, going 3-1 by winning two of three against the Orioles and taking the series opener againstColoradoyesterday.
The All Star break is quickly approaching, but the Braves have a great shot at gaining some ground on the Phillies before the break. They have two more games against the Rockies at Turner Field, but then they finish off the first half with three inPhiladelphiaagainst the Phillies.
I’d like nothing more than to see the Braves win their last five games before the break, and surpassPhiladelphiafor the division lead. That may be asking a bit much, but I’d settle for two more series wins to finish off the first half on a good note.