The Braves led the National League East throughout the first half, but that doesn’t mean they feel they have played up to their potential.
“I think the best is still ahead of us,” Fredi Gonzalez said.
The Braves manager is right to feel that way.
B.J. Upton, Jason Heyward and Dan Uggla have all hit much less than expected. Brian McCann missed the first month coming back from shoulder surgery. Justin Upton slumped after a big April.
“We really haven’t put everything together yet,” general manager Frank Wren said.
But the Braves, who started the season 12-1, are 54-41 anyway going into the second half and their six-game lead is the largest in the majors despite the slumps and injuries that have cost the team three key players for the season while limiting others.
Now they have to get healthy and stay that way. It has been a rough season in that regard.
“It’s the most banged up we’ve ever been at the All-Star break,” Wren said.
Atlanta goes into the second half with B.J. Upton (abductor) on the disabled list and Freddie Freeman (thumb), Justin Upton (calf) and Jason Heyward (hamstring) hurting. All were hurt in the final series before the break against Cincinnati. Freeman’s jammed left thumb cost him an opportunity to play in the All-Star Game. He continued to receive treatment in New York and hopes to play this weekend as the Braves return to action with an interleague series against the White Sox in Chicago.
Justin Upton and Heyward should also be back and B.J. Upton should be able to return as soon as his stint on the disabled list is over. Meanwhile, the bullpen has been able to overcome not having Eric O’Flaherty or Jonny Venters to set up closer Craig Kimbrel and the starting rotation has been solid despite the absence of a real ace.
Wren figures to be busy before the trading deadlines, though. The Braves have holes and they don’t want to waste another opportunity. They did that in 2011, when they collapsed down the stretch, and against last year, when they lost the wild-card game to St. Louis.
Gonzalez feels good about the Braves’ chances to hold on to first place.
“We’ve gotten good pitching, but our offense hasn’t hit its stride,” he said. “I think our offense is going to get better in the second half.”
Brian McCann, who missed the first five weeks of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, went into the break hot and Evan Gattis returned after a DL stint.
The Braves, though, lead the National League in strikeouts as well as homers. A little more contact would certainly help. So would being able to keep their regulars on the field.