Braves Progress Report: Braves Address Pitching Struggles, Look to Pivotal August

Right now, the Atlanta Braves are standing in a place any other MLB team would love to be.

They still stand head and shoulders above other teams in the MLB more than halfway into the season. (.653 vs. the next closest competitor, Baltimore’s .616).

The batting is still plating runs, although not as copious as earlier this month, thanks in part to tough pitching from opposing teams.

Local and even some national sports journalists are now seeing the Braves as at least playoff contenders.

Yet, the past few games made some Braves fans and observers a little nervous. Why?

The Braves were destined to run into tough spots as the season moves forward. And tough teams have given the team challenges in the past few weeks.

Like the Arizona Diamondbacks, which handed the Braves its first series loss since May, and the Chicago White Sox, which had a losing record at 41-60, but had pitching potent enough to give the Braves a back-to-back losing series streak. And there’s the Milwaukee Brewers, which the Braves managed to walk away with a 2-3 split, but the eye-catching performance of Sal Frelick nearly single handily giving the Brewers its sole win against the Braves, had many fans wondering if the Home Team has lost the magic it had before the All-Star Game.

The difference maker in most of these games is pitching. The Braves pitching wasn’t as strong as the teams it opposed in the last few weeks. And the offense wasn’t scoring enough to overcome that deficiency. Add to that defensive errors and miscues in a few games, most recently the sole losing game against Milwaukee, and that led to the somewhat rocky road the Braves had to travel since the break.

That’s the Braves’ recent past. Now here’s their future.

In the closing days of July, the Braves will play the Boston Red Sox, who have a .530 winning percentage (PCT), for two games starting tomorrow, then look out, here comes Frelick and those Brewers again (.550) for another three game series. Splits are likely for both series.

In August, the Braves get these teams in order: Angels (.510 PCT ), Cubs (.485), Pirates (.434), Mets (.465), Yankees (.530), Giants (.535), Mets (again!), Giants (again!), Mets (3rd series this month), Rockies (.394), and Dodgers (.582).

At least on paper (baseball is unpredictable, you know!), the Brewers, Cubs, Giants and especially the Dodgers are the toughest teams the Braves will face in August. The best chances for a Braves sweep are the Pirates, Yankees and Rockies. The Braves could definitely help themselves by winning the two upcoming series against another NL East team, the Mets.

So can the Braves make most of its forthcoming games count when pitching is in question? Aparently Braves General Manager Alex Anthopoulos has been spending some time on that very question, and it didn’t take long after the last game for him to make some decisions.

On Sunday, the Braves aquired right-handed pitcher Yonny Chirinos off waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays, sent right-handed pitcher Michael Soroka to the Braves’ Triple-A Gwinnett club and designated right-handed pitcher Seth Elledge for assignment. Today, they acquired from the Rockies Pierce Johnson to help shore up their bullpen, in a swap for Tanner Gordon and Victor Vodnik. The Braves are also paying the Texas Rangers for the services of left-handed pitcher Taylor Hearn.

These new arms coming to the dugout will replace temporarly departing and/or reassigned pitchers, like Soroka, who did well but not enough to stay on the starter roster. He’s going to Gwinnett to improve his game.

As the last few weeks have taught us, a team can’t live soley on agressive offense, or on great pitching, for that matter. But the front office is doing what it can to keep the team competitve, so at least the Braves can’t be accused of not doing anything when things don’t seem to be jelling. Time will tell if the right decisions were made.

The road to a championship is rough and unsteady path, but the Braves are moving forward, still in the right direction.