That outburst was the latest from a Braves offense that has authored an impressive in-season turnaround. Whereas the Braves entered the All-Star Break ranked 30th in the majors in wRC+, an advanced metric that adjusts for ballpark and league, the second half has since seen the Braves flip the proverbial switch — to the extent that they entered Monday ranked second. Put another way, the Braves scored 3.4 runs per game in the first half, and 4.7 since.
The key to the Braves’ gains has been internal improvement.
Nearly each everyday starter who remains has performed better in the second half than they did in the first half. Freddie Freeman, who led the Braves in OPS with an .891 mark, entered the night hitting .315/.425/.616 in the second half — and then added a home run and a double versus Syndergaard. Defensive whiz Ender Inciarte, nabbed in the Shelby Miller trade, has batted .355 since the break after posting a .599 OPS in the first half. Nick Markakis and Adonis Garcia have seen their seasonal OPS improve by 60 and 88 points since the league took a few days off. Even backstop Tyler Flowers has performed better. The only starter to hit worse in the second half has been second baseman Jace Peterson:
|Player||First Half OPS||Second Half OPS||Net|
That isn’t to say the Braves haven’t benefited from outside additions.
Acquiring Matt Kemp in an NBA-style bad-contract swap has worked out well. Kemp isn’t much of a defender, but he’s swatted eight home runs while hitting for average and getting on base. There’s also shortstop Dansby Swanson, another part of the Miller trade, whose .758 OPS is a big upgrade over what Erick Aybar provided in the first half.
As is the case with most league-leading offenses, the Braves are unlikely to maintain this pace. That doesn’t mean a return to the abysmal first-half state is in order, however. Freeman may well continue doing his best in-his-prime Adrian Gonzalez impersonation. Inciarte and Markakis ought to hit better than they did early on. And for all the knocks on Kemp, he’s almost always performed at the plate. If the Braves fulfill their promise to be active this winter, and pursue potential upgrades at third base and catcher, there’s a chance for something interesting here.
Atlanta’s pitching staff still boasts too many question marks to pencil them in as likely 2017 contenders — or even as a realistic darkhorse. But if they keep hitting like this, who knows? At minimum, the Braves will be fun to watch for the first time in years.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Breaking down how the Braves managed to turn its offense around