Braves surge back into playoff picture

Shortstop Dansby Swanson, pictured here celebrating on second base, has been having a career year for the Braves. He has helped lead the team up the standings as of late. // Photo courtesy of Brett Davis via USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves have almost reached the midway point of their season and have been able to maintain their hold onto second place in the NL East behind the Mets despite their many ups and downs.

The Braves season started slowly and they remained below .500 for most of their first 50 games in the season. They experienced some injuries highlighted by the late return of Ronald Acuna Jr. from an injury last season and the loss of relieving pitchers Tyler Matzek and Luke Jackson along with All-Star second baseman Ozzie Albies.

With a record of 23–27 the Braves needed to turn their season around to maintain any hopes of repeating as World Series Champions with the Mets beginning to run away in the division. Atlanta did so in June where they began the month with a 14 game winning streak during a stretch of their schedule against weaker opponents. During this streak the Braves swept the Rockies, Athletics, Pirates and Nationals and during this time they were able to claw themselves back in the race in the NL East.

As a team currently in contention for one of the three Wild Card spots in the National League, the Braves need to try and gain ground on the Mets to secure a spot in the playoffs rather than have to fight with the west coast powerhouses for a wild card spot. Atlanta will have their chance to do so as they still have 15 remaining games against the New York Mets. Currently their season record is tied 2–2.

Defensively the Braves are being led by starting pitchers Max Fried and Kyle Wright. Both have ERAs near or below 3.00 and they both have allowed the lowest averages and earned the most wins on the team. Starting pitchers Charlie Morton and Ian Anderson have struggled so far this season, and although they both have winnings records, neither of them are pitching as well as they have in the past. As a team the Atlanta pitching staff is just barely inside the top ten in terms of overall ERA, opponent’s batting average and wins. The fact the Braves have turned their season around without the help of two of their best starters playing well and with the Achilles injury to Mike Soroka should give encouragement to fans that the Braves may not have peaked just yet.

On offense the Braves are performing well as a unit and are near the top of the league in most categories. They are second in the MLB in home runs and lead the league in slugging percentage. Even with an above average offense the Braves are still struggling in some areas at the plate, the biggest being strikeouts. The Braves currently lead the league in strikeouts at the plate with almost 9.5 per game. Atlanta’s on-base percentage is about average right now and if they are able to fix the strikeout problem on offense, their offense could explode even further in the future.

The Braves current offense is being led by Dansby Swanson, Michael Harris II and Orlando Arcia who are all batting above or near .300 on the season. Acuna leads the team in stolen bases with 13 and in on-base perrcentages of .372, and Austin Riley is leading the team in home runs with 18 as of June 26.

The Braves’ first half of the season is coming to a close and although they have shown major improvement and gotten a lot of wins as of late, there is still a lot more room for improvement. If the Braves peak at the right part of the season again and can take care of the division rival New York Mets, Atlanta will have another opportunity to repeat and win the World Series again.