Staff Photo: John Bohn Gwinnett Braves hitter Ernesto Mejia looks skyward from the batter's box during a game against the Durham Bulls at Coolray Field Saturday.
For 55 days the Gwinnett Braves were in first place. At one point, they led by more than five games.
But a June swoon that saw the team ravaged by Atlanta Braves call-ups and injuries led to a franchise-worst 15-game losing streak. Of the 30 games played by the G-Braves in June, they won just five. But June gave way to July and the G-Braves won six of eight heading into this week's All-Star break.
Gone is that 5 game division lead in the International League South. Replacing it is a seven-game gap between the G-Braves and the new leader Charlotte. Gwinnett's 43-49 record has them tied for last place in the division and an even further eight games out in the wild card race. The hole dug in June will be tough to overcome if the G-Braves want to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
But success in Class AAA is defined less by wins (the Cleveland Indians affiliate in Columbus boasts back-to-back IL championships) and more by developing players for a big-league impact. Here are the good and bad from the first half in Gwinnett.
The only Class AAA All-Star selection who made the trip to Buffalo for this week's game, Mejia leads the team with 99 hits, 17 home runs, 59 RBIs and is second among active players with a .302 average. Mejia, who spent last year in with Class AA Mississippi, has just two errors at first base, adding solid defense to his average and power. This is the second year for the 26-year-old Mejia to display his ability at the plate. With Mississippi last year, he led all Braves minor leaguers with 26 home runs and 99 RBIs.
The season of Freddie Freeman notwithstanding, Mejia is easily the best first baseman to play everyday in Gwinnett since the team's arrival in 2009.
Seemingly the only roster consistency year-to-year for the Gwinnett Braves, the right-hander Redmond has become the team's most consistent starter and most successful starter.
His 3.40 ERA is the best among the rotation and his six wins also lead the team. Always a flyball, strikeout pitcher Redmond has limited his home runs allowed to just 11 despite ranking among the league leaders with 100 innings pitched. He has struck out a team-high 92, also placing him near the top of the International League.
And all this is not without reward. Redmond was called up for the first time in his career and despite only staying in the big leagues for four days and never pitching did not show any signs of regression or pouting when he returned.
"It was a great opportunity," Redmond said. "It was special to go to New York for our first round trip. It was an honor to be called up for the first time. I couldn't have been happier."
Bat him ninth, bat him first, bat him second, Durango scraps his way on base and then takes another one. The offseason free agent acquisition from Panama is fourth among active G-Braves with a .341 on-base percentage but first among all the IL in steals and it's not close.
In 85 games played, Durango has swiped 31 total bases and been nabbed 10 times (second most in the league). Second behind Durango in steals is Indianapolis' Chase d'Arnaud with 23, eight less.
One downside for Durango, who has played parts of the past three seasons in the big leagues, is that his centerfield position held in Atlanta by Michael Bourn. But in 39 big-league games, Durango hit .292 with seven stolen bases.
"One thing we forget is he's only 21," pitching coach Marty Reed said a few weeks ago of the G-Braves' biggest prospect.
But after a season where he dominated International League batters to the tune of 15 wins a 2.55 ERA and 122 strikeouts to just 48 walks, its impossible to watch Teheran this season without some disappointment.
Through 16 starts this season, Teheran's ERA is nearly double his 2011 number. His five losses are two more than he was tagged with all of last season and at one point this season the Braves opted to attempt to turn reliever Kris Medlen into a starter rather than call Teheran back to the big leagues.
Both Reed and Teheran attribute some of the struggles to mechanical adjustments, but the waves of inconsistency can't be ignored. He pitched his first career nine-inning complete game this season and on the two starts on either side of that he failed to reach the fifth inning.
Remember this guy? He was supposed to be the heir to Chipper Jones at third base. Was a surprise in spring training, earning a spot in Gwinnett. The retiring All-Star and certain Hall of Famer Jones called Terdoslavich the "next in line" at the start of the season.
Now, Terdoslavich is in double-A playing first base. He got his shot in Gwinnett. In 53 games, the switch-hitter hit .180, impressively collecting 20 RBIs. And it wasn't just his bat. In a return to third base, Terdoslavich struggled mightily with 22 errors. That's nine more than Josh Wilson's 13, but Wilson played in 27 more games.
With Mississippi he's hitting .287 with 10 doubles a home run and 19 RBIs in 28 games, but he's already racked up six errors, lending more angst to a season which began with big expectations.
There may be a big-league light shining for Pastornicky, but regardless of what the Braves do to fill the spot of the injured Andrelton Simmons, it's hard to rank Pastornicky's season, to this point, a success.
The shortstop was named the Atlanta Braves opening day starter out of spring training, but defensive shortcomings brought him back to Gwinnett where he's made six starts at second base, a position he has no experience playing.
He's worked through it all and kept hitting. He hit .248 with Atlanta and is hitting .264 with Gwinnett. In 26 games in AAA he has 14 doubles and 20 RBIs and is reaching base at a .316 clip.