During the All-Star break, we ran a 10-item breakdown of the Braves storylines to keep an eye on during the season’s second half. Just one week removed from the Midsummer Classic and the franchise has been busy, already addressing many of its first-half issues.
In a combination of roster moves, the Braves cleared Dan Uggla’s name from the roster by granting him his unconditional release (he has since signed with the San Francisco Giants) and replaced Luis Avilan, who has been the team’s least productive reliever in 2014, with Double-A Mississippi arm Chasen Shreve for lefty bullpen help. Those may seem insubstantial in the grand scheme of things — a little-used bench player and a left-handed specialist — but an extra roster spot and (possibly) added effectiveness in key late-game situations will be important.
And, just as many expected and manager Fredi Gonzalez predicted earlier last week, the team elected not to keep rookie Christian Bethancourt on the roster following the return of Evan Gattis. (Although, it should be mentioned, this projects to be an interesting position offense vs. defense position battle in 2015.)
Again, this was not exactly ground-breaking stuff from the organization. These were expected moves.
The remaining question marks offer more intrigue, even if some will take months to resolve (i.e. offensive production, overall pitching consistency). But Tuesday night’s outing from Mike Minor against the Marlins not only reiterated the concerns facing the lefty and his second-half attempt to bounce back, it also gave Gonzalez enough reason to voice his doubts.
"I am a little concerned," Gonzalez said of Minor after Tuesday night’s 6-5 loss, "because we’ve seen so much better than that and we’ve seen a couple of good outings and then one like tonight and then a couple of good outings, so we’ll keep working, we’ll keep trying to work it out because he’s a big part, a big piece of our rotation right now."
After leading the entire pitching staff in wins above replacement last season, Minor has been the least valuable pitcher on staff this season, hovering right around replacement level (0.2 WAR). His 5.32 ERA is the worst he’s posted since his eight-start 2010 campaign. His strikeouts are up, but he’s allowing more walks and home runs than last season and he’s admitted that he’s struggling with his command. The Marlins handed him one of his worst outings to date in his first start since the All-Star break, putting up six earned runs in three innings, so he’s certainly not off to the fast second-half start he and the team were hoping for.
Minor said after the game that he’s healthy, and judging by his velocity there’s no reason to question him: his fastball velocity has, in fact, increased ever so slightly. So, as he said, it has to be location. He’s allowing the highest contact rate in his career (83.4 percent) and he’s getting fewer swinging strikes than ever before — all despite hitting the strike zone at a lower rate than either of his previous two seasons. Practically everything is trending negatively for Mike Minor, and Atlanta needs him to find his best stuff soon, as they are now two games behind the Washington Nationals in the division. Our writers discuss the recent moves, the division race and more in the latest Chopcast: