Chopcast: Braves face pivotal stretch heading into All-Star break
Jun 25, 2014 at 1:16p ET
It's been a pretty lousy first half of the season for the Braves offense. This is not up for debate -- Atlanta simply has not scored as many runs as its overall talent suggests it should, and the results have left them grasping for answers while trailing the Nationals in the NL East. With Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis threatening at the top of the lineup, ranking 29th in runs scored, by a substantial margin, through their first 76 games and counting.
The teams joining them down at the bottom of the runs scored totem pole are an unimpressive group: Padres, Cubs, Rays and Astros. Those teams are a combined 130-180 this season, with three placing dead last in their divisions. The Braves can bank on good pitching and a substandard NL East for keeping them in the playoff hunt thus far, but sooner or later those types of numbers are going to catch in the win-loss column in the worst way.
But that's the bad news.
The good news is they have a great opportunity to turn things around in the coming games.
Atlanta's pre-All-Star break slate is favorable -- and by favorable we mean the teams are terrible in relation to the rest of the league. If the Braves are going to run around this stretch where they've been a below-average team, there's not going to be many better opportunities than right now.
The 19-game stretch starts with Houston -- the Upton brothers helped the Braves claim Game No. 1 of the stretch on Tuesday -- before playing the Phillies, Mets, Diamondbacks, Mets (again) and then the Cubs. Four of those teams rank dead last in their respective divisions, while the Mets hold the fourth spot in the NL East. The Braves enter Wednesday's game trailing the Washington Nationals by two games in the division, and if they can't close that gap against a few of the worst teams in baseball -- the Nationals, on the other hand, enter a difficult stretch -- then it is going to be that much more difficult to defend the division title in the second half.
As for the struggling offense: three of its upcoming opponents (Phillies, Mets, Diamondbacks) rank 25th or worse in pitching WAR this season. The Astros rank 16th. This is the time for Fredi Gonzalez & Co. to get thing back on track.
At a certain point, contenders start playing like contenders. Our writers discuss the schedule, the offense and more: