While most folks around baseball may not realize it, the Braves are playing their best baseball of the season. Coming into Thursday’s series finale in Milwaukee, Atlanta had posted a .500 record over the last 50 games played, winning 10 of the last 15 games played. In fact, since June 15th, Atlanta’s 25 wins are the fifth-most in the NL over that span. So, what’s been the key to the Braves’ righting the ship? Let’s take a look at a few of the biggest keys over the last two months…
The Bullpen: Credit where it’s due, the Atlanta relief corps has been outstanding and a big reason why the team has had the chance to shake hands more frequently. Entering Thursday, the Atlanta pen had posted a 1.35 ERA in the month of August, which is the best in baseball over that span. Since the All-Star Break, the Braves have recorded eight saves, which is tied for the most in the NL. Guys like Mauricio Cabrera and Ian Krol have found their ways into higher leverage situations with injuries to Arodys Vizcaino and Chris Withrow. Jim Johnson has also been extremely reliable, posting a 1.57 ERA over his last 28 games with nine saves.
Kemp Contributes: When the Front Office pulled the trigger on acquiring Matt Kemp a few days prior to the Trade Deadline, many in the Braves clubhouse figured the addition of Kemp would pay immediate dividends. While Kemp got Thursday off, he’s hit safely in four of his last five games, including his 24th homer of the season. The addition of Kemp to the heart of the order is a big boost both physically and emotionally. The message John Coppoellla sent his players showed that the days of star players moving elsewhere was over and that Kemp is just the first of a number of additions the club will make between now and Opening Day 2017.
Goin’ Streakin: Two of the hottest hitters in baseball over the last few weeks have found their way to the top of the Braves batting order. Ender Inciarte, who recently saw his hit streak snapped at 19 straight as moved back to the leadoff spot. Since the All-Star Break, Inciarte has the seventh highest average in the Majors at .361 (35-for-97). Overall, Inciarte has hit safely in 26 of his last 29 games, batting .333 (38-for-114) over that span. Erick Aybar is just as hot, but also saw his hitting streak come to an end after 14 straight, but Aybar has hit .385 (20-for-52) with five multi-hit games and a .415 OBP over that stretch. Having Inciarte and Aybar set the table for Freeman, Kemp and Markakis has lengthened the lineup and the results of late speak for themselves.
Starting Staff: While the Atlanta starting staff has a much different look than it did on Opening Day, guys like Joel De La Cruz, Rob Whalen and Mike Foltynewicz have stepped up into bigger roles. In one week, the rotation lost three starters as Lucas Harrell was traded to Texas, Matt Wisler continued to struggle and was optioned to Gwinnett and perhaps the biggest loss, Julio Teheran landing on the DL with a strained lat. Teheran will likely make a rehab start in the coming days and could be healthy enough to return on the upcoming homestand. But, until he does, the Braves will continue to rely on Mike Foltynewicz (who faces Stephen Strasburg Friday) and others to carry the load in his absence.
Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin