Bill Shanks

Improving Braves should be better in second half of season

Atlanta pitcher Mike Foltynewicz and the Braves are 40-41 entering the second half of the season.
Atlanta pitcher Mike Foltynewicz and the Braves are 40-41 entering the second half of the season. AP

The roller coaster that is the 2017 season for the Atlanta Braves is at the halfway point. After Sunday’s win over Oakland, Atlanta’s record was 40-41 through the first 81 games. The Braves are on pace for an 80-82 record, which would be a 12-game improvement over last year’s record.

It has been, as expected, an up-and-down first half of the season. At times, the Braves have looked ordinary. Then they’ll turn around the next week and play well. That’s what a team striving to become a winner will go through — ups and downs, good weeks and bad weeks.

The past three weeks have been pretty good, as the Braves have gone 13-6 mainly against teams with losing records. They did win two series from teams leading their divisions, Washington and Milwaukee, so it wasn’t just against bad teams.

There are some obvious things that must happen for the Braves to be better in the second half. At the top of the list is the pitching, as Atlanta’s team earned run average is 4.50, 10th-worst in the Majors. The rotation has been the issue, as it has a 4.80 ERA, the seventh worst in Major League Baseball.

The release of Bartolo Colon should help that stat, as rookie Sean Newcomb has been great in his first four starts. Newcomb will likely get 15 starts or so in these next three months, so he’ll get his chance to solidify a spot in a rotation that could get crowded real soon.

With the Braves still in a rebuilding phase, even with the improved record, there could be trades before the July 31 trade deadline to impact the roster. Jaime Garcia is one pitcher who could be moved. He’s a pending free agent and the Braves will likely move him. That could open another rotation spot, and Lucas Sims could be first in line to get a promotion.

But don’t count out Kris Medlen, who is coming back from shoulder issues. Medlen is getting innings in the minor leagues, and he could be ready in a few weeks. Who knows what to expect from Medlen, who totally reworked his routine and his delivery to stay healthy.

The Braves could also give Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair another chance. Wisler has improved in the past month in Gwinnett.

The bullpen could see some changes, as well. Jim Johnson could be traded before the deadline, and the Braves could decide to give Arodys Vizcaino another chance as the closer. Johnson has been inconsistent despite having 18 saves.

Of course, the big wild card for the Braves in the second half is the pending return of Freddie Freeman. It looks like Freeman is going to play third base. The potential improvement in the lineup with Freeman joining Matt Adams could make the Braves much better the next three months.

We just don’t know what the Braves’ defense could be with Freeman at third. But the thought of a lineup with Freeman and Adams both in it might make the defensive issue inconsequential.

The Braves may get Sean Rodriguez back sooner than expected. Rodriquez has missed the season with a shoulder problem he suffered in an automobile accident in January. His recovery has gone well, and Rodriguez is now in the Gulf Coast League taking swings.

Additional prospects could come up and make a difference. Ozzie Albies has hit .313 in his past 42 games in Triple-A Gwinnett, so the 20-year-old second baseman is getting close. We could see A.J. Minter join the bullpen soon. Minter is a hard-throwing lefty who may finally be healthy.

The roster has already changed since Opening Day, as eight players who started the season are either gone or on the disabled list. But there are plenty of reason to believe the Braves can be better in the second half of the season, which could give them a winning record for the first time since 2013.

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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