The Atlanta Braves have continued to play excellent baseball more often than not in the 2013 season, something that was obvious in the team’s three-game sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks to stretch their lead in the NL East to 6 1/2 games, which is currently the largest division lead in all of baseball.
Indeed, this latest series against the D-Backs was as good as it gets, as it included the retirement of future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones’s #10, a thrilling 8th inning comeback victory, and three consecutive games in which the Braves’ bats produced double digit hits. This stretch of games coincided with the team reaching the halfway mark of the season following Saturday’s victory, which left the Braves sitting at 47-34 (exactly one game below my preseason prediction for the team).
A huge part of the team’s continued success has been first baseman Freddie Freeman, whose excellence covering first along with his reliable hitting (currently holds a .307 batting average and leads the team in batting average, RBIs, and OPS) has propelled the team time and time again over the course of the year. Along with Freeman’s reliability has been the re-emergence of fan favorite Jason Heyward, who has been on fire in the month of June, putting up a .308 average–lifting his season average to .231–with 4 home runs and 9 RBIs.
As important as the hitting has been for this squad lately, the hard-working pitching staff, including both the starters and the bullpen, has arguably been more crucial to the team continuing to set the pace in the East. Since June 1st the Braves have given up four runs or more in just eight of their twenty-eight games in the month and have also had their fair share of losses that were definitely not the man on the mound’s fault, as 1/3 of the team’s losses in June came in games in which the opponent scored three runs or less.
One of the main pitchers that has been affected by the disappointing lack of run support has been starter Tim Hudson, who sits at 4-7 on the year with 73 strikeouts and a 4.22 ERA. Although these numbers are definitely not what fans are accustomed to seeing from the former Auburn Tiger, Hudson did all he could to help Atlanta in the past month, finishing June with a 2.47 ERA and an impressive 1.04 WHIP. However, runs have came at a premium for the Braves’ offense when Huddy’s spot in the rotation has come up, as his last five starts prior to Saturday’s offensive explosion have seen Atlanta bolster up 0 runs, 2 runs, 2 runs, 0 runs, and 2 runs in a stretch that saw Hudson go 0-3 with two no decisions. Although Hudson undoubtedly knows that going through games where runs are hard to find is just part of the game, it is imperative that the Bravos starting hitting for their veteran pitcher and giving him a little more leeway, which will produce even better starts from the 37-year-old.
Next up for the Braves is three consecutive series against NL East opponents with the red hot Miami Marlins traveling to the Ted followed by away series against the Philadelphia Phillies as well as a three-game set in Florida against the Marlins, which will then be followed by a three game series at home against the Cincinnati Reds to lead the team into the All-Star break. While these games against the likes of the Phillies and Marlins are not do-or-die during the early days of July, Atlanta needs to take advantage of the opportunity to pad their lead in the East due to the highly likelihood that one of their division rivals (probably the Nationals) gets hot in the second half of the year. If the Braves are able to post a record of at least 6-7 over these next three series, in my opinion they should be able to relax over their upcoming “break” from baseball.
Who do you think has been the most important part of the Braves’ success so far this season? Leave a comment and let your opinion be heard!