Bill Shanks

At halfway point, Braves are on pace for big improvement

Atlanta’s Kurt Suzuki, right, celebrates his game-winning home run with teammate Dansby Swanson during Sunday’s game in Oakland.
Atlanta’s Kurt Suzuki, right, celebrates his game-winning home run with teammate Dansby Swanson during Sunday’s game in Oakland. TNS

The Atlanta Braves are at 40-41 at the midway point in the 162-game schedule. They are on pace for an 80-82 record, which would be a 12-game improvement from last year when they finished 68-93. That would be a great next step in the rebuilding process.

Let’s look at what the Braves players are on pace for at the exact middle of the 2017 season. In other words, let’s use multiplication and double the players’ stats.

Starting pitcher Julio Teheran is on pace for a 12-12 season, with 34 starts and 192 2/3 innings pitched. Teheran obviously needs to improve his 5.14 ERA from the first half of the season.

R.A. Dickey is on pace for a 12-10 record in 32 starts and 194 2/3 innings. If Dickey can lower his 4.44 ERA and put up those numbers, his signing will be looked at as a success. The Braves wanted Dickey to give them innings, and he’s done just that. Plus, the team is 10-6 in his 16 starts.

Mike Foltynewicz is also on pace for a 12-10 record and 31 starts. He’ll have 174 innings if he doubles his current amount, but remember Folty made a relief appearance in April taking away one of his starts and lowering his innings pitched. He’s also on pace for 152 strikeouts

Jaime Garcia will likely finish the season in a different uniform, as he’s a pending free agent. The belief is the Braves will trade Garcia before the July 31 trade deadline. Garcia is only 2-6 this season with a 4.35 ERA in his first 15 starts. Garcia has an ERA of 10.13 in his last three starts.

It’s hard to project what Sean Newcomb could finish with, at least based on his first four starts. Newcomb has a 1.48 ERA in those four appearances. Newcomb is likely to get at least 15 starts if he remains in the rotation the rest of the season.

Closer Jim Johnson has 18 saves at the midway point, putting him on schedule for 36 saves. You have to wonder if the Braves could include Johnson in a deal before July 31 and give the closer’s role to Arodys Vizcaino, who has two saves and a 2.38 ERA. Johnson is on pace to pitch in 72 games, while Vizcaino is on pace to appear in 74 games.

Here are what the other Braves relievers are on pace for in games pitched: Jose Ramirez (74), Ian Krol (64), Jason Motte (58), Sam Freeman (42) and Luke Jackson (38). Some of the relievers’ ERA’s look good at the halfway point in the season: Motte (1.78), Vizcaino (2.38), Freeman (2.73), Ramirez (2.94) and Jackson (3.00). Krol’s ERA is 4.85, but he has a 2.25 ERA in his past 18 games after starting the season with a 7.90 ERA in his first 14 appearances.

The two catchers for Atlanta have had a great first half of the season. Tyler Flowers is on pace for 12 home runs and 52 RBI to go with his .318 batting average and his .413 on-base percentage. Kurt Suzuki is on pace for 12 home runs and 42 RBI after his two-home run day on Sunday. If the Braves were to finish with a combined 24 home runs and 94 RBI from Flowers and Suzuki, that would be quite a story.

Obviously, Freddie Freeman and Matt Adams split the playing time at first base in the first half. With Freeman likely back soon, if both did well in the second half they could both eclipse 30 home runs. Of course, we must see if Freeman can play third base and if Adams is not traded before July 31.

In his first season with the Braves, second baseman Brandon Phillips is on pace for 14 home runs, 58 RBI, 14 stolen bases and 38 doubles to accompany his .291 batting average. Rookie Dansby Swanson would finish with 12 home runs and 70 RBI in his first full season in Atlanta if he keeps up his current pace.

The outfield is led by All-Star Ender Inciarte, who has 106 hits to lead all major leaguers. He’s on pace for 12 home runs, 64 RBI, 22 stolen bases and 212 hits. Inciarte is hitting .307 and has a .353 on-base percentage.

Matt Kemp’s average is down to .306, but he has 12 home runs and 39 RBI, putting him on pace for 24 home runs and 78 RBI. Through May, Kemp was hitting .345 with 10 home runs and 30 RBI. Since June 1, Kemp has hit just .240 with two home runs and 10 RBI.

Nick Markakis has a .286 batting average with three home runs and 42 RBI, putting him on pace for just six home runs and 84 RBI. He is also on pace for 38 doubles.

The roster has changed a bit since Opening Day. Bartolo Colon, Chase d’Arnaud and Emilio Bonifacio are gone. Anthony Recker and Josh Collmenter are in the minor leagues, while Adonis Garcia, Chaz Roe and Eric O’Flaherty are on Atlanta’s disabled list. That’s 32 percent of the roster looking different than it did April 3.

The Braves must get better pitching. The 4.50 ERA is 20th best in MLB, 10th best in the NL. The starting rotation ERA is 4.80, which is seventh worst in the majors. With Colon gone, that should improve in the second half. The bullpen ERA is 3.98, ninth best in MLB, so we have seen improvement there.

Atlanta has scored 4.6 runs per game through the first 81 games. The 370 runs are good enough for 18th best in baseball. They are fourth worst in home runs with only 81, so they’re hitting one per game. That should improve when Freeman returns to the lineup.

A lot could happen in the next 81 games. Obviously, trades could impact the roster, particularly the pitching staff. We could see more minor leaguers called up. The return of Freeman will have implications, as well. But if the players put together similar numbers through the first weekend in October, the Braves will have a great shot at finishing with a record near the .500 mark.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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