After winning 12 of their first 13 games, the Braves went 42-40 the rest of the way to go into the All-Star break with the third-best record in the National League and a six-game lead in the NL East, the largest division lead in the majors.
They’ve had an erratic, boom-or-bust offense that leads the NL in home runs (114) and strikeouts (826), and ranks second in walks (329). Meanwhile, Braves pitchers have the majors’ second-best ERA (3.29), including a top-rated 2.62 bullpen ERA despite the loss of setup men Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters to elbow surgeries.
Braves general manager Frank Wren spoke with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the team’s performance and goals going forward. This is the first in a two-part interview that concludes in Friday’s AJC.
What are your general thoughts on the Braves’ performance and the team’s position at the All-Star break?
“I think we’re happy to be in the position we’re in. I don’t think any of us are satisfied with the first half overall, because probably only in one or two windows did we really click, as we had hoped. Probably that first two weeks of the season, we were healthy and playing to our capabilities. I’m not saying we’re going to be 13-1 or whatever the record was, I’m just saying a lot of things were clicking right at that point. And since then…it’s a credit to our team and the depth of our team, because we’ve had injuries, and we’ve had everybody on the roster, 1 through 25, contribute in a big way. There were times when Ramiro Pena was the star of the game. Jordan Schafer. (Juan) Francisco or (Chris) Johnson, whoever was playing. Gerald Laird. Evan Gattis. I mean, you go right down the list of all our guys. Reed Johnson. We’ve had great contributions from our entire roster. And I really think that’s one of the strengths of our team.”
Going into the season, were there a couple of different directions that you thought this rather unique assemblage of hitters might go in? And if so, did it follow either of those scripts?
“No, it hasn’t yet. We haven’t seen the consistency out of our lineup to let us know exactly what our lineup is going to be. Because I don’t think anybody could predict that we’d have two or three guys hitting under .200 well into the season. Guys are starting to come out of it now and starting to produce. But I still don’t think we’re clicking offensively like we’re capable. And I actually look at that as an encouraging thing about our team, is that if we can get guys to their norms – and I’ve been saying that for a long time, so it’s kind of a tired statement – but I do think our offense will be better. And we’ve seen our strikeouts reduced. We’ve seen more productive at-bats as we got into the middle of the season. So that needs to continue. We need to continue to put pressure on teams, and the strikeouts don’t put a lot of pressure on teams.”
Are there seasons where the July (trade-deadline) fixes are more doable than others, as far as getting one or two pieces that could put you over the top? Is this one of those seasons?
“There are seasons where I think it’s more imperative that you make a big move. I don’t know that that’s the case this year. Because when I look at our lineup, I think we’ll continue to use a deep lineup, where we’ll use our entire roster and extra guys to cobble together productive lineups; Fredi (Gonzalez) will do that…Hopefully we get more guys involved in the offense, and get guys more consistent. And so, I’m not sure that there’s a big move for us to make a big move on the offensive side. Pitching-wise, we weathered losing two premier setup guys. The other guys have really stepped up and done a tremendous job. We may look for more depth there; not because the guys haven’t done their job and not because we’re not happy with what’s happened. It’s just, you’d like to have some reinforcements.”
So that’s the biggest need?
“Yeah, I would say bullpen. Reinforcements in the bullpen. We’re thrilled with the way the guys have stepped up and done the job they’ve done. You just always want to have some backup there.”
Going back to what you said about the offense, has anything surprised you there?
“Yeah, I didn’t think we would struggled as broadly as we have offensively at times. I do think that we’ve seen a lot of good signs over the last three or four weeks of that being less of an issue.”
How about pitching — anything surprised you?
“Yeah, the starting staff has done a tremendous job. Just in being able to make their starts and being able to keep us in games on a routine basis. I just think that’s a credit to the work they’ve done.”
Are you thankful to have kept Julio Teheran over Randall Delgado, or did it come down to Arizona wanting Delgado (in the January trade for Justin Upton)?
“Teheran was not going to be traded. We always felt there was a difference between the two. We loved Randall Delgado, but we always felt there was a difference.”
Does the performance this season of guys like Teheran, Alex Wood, Gattis and Joey Terdoslavich give you a good feeling about the state of your minor league operations and player development?
“We’re bringing players to the big leagues at a pretty rapid pace. I mean, (Andrelton) Simmons, Gattis, Terdo, Wood – you keep going through that list of guys who have made a rapid ascent through our minor league system. I think it speaks to our scouting and the job they do, as well as how they’re prepared in the minor leagues. Because they come up here and have successs.”
Who are a couple of lower-level minor league prospects whom fans might not be aware of and should keep an eye on in the next year or two?
“When you look at Mauricio Cabrera, who’s a starting pitcher at (low Class-A) Rome, of this new generation of high-velocity starters, he has that ability. He can go through a start and have his lowest fastball velocity be 96 (mph). He’s 98-100 consistently, and he’s 19 years old. As these young guys develop and start coming along, I think we’re going to see more and more of that. More velocity. We are seeing it. He’s one young guy (to watch). When you look at (catcher/third baseman) Victor Caratini out of this draft, it looks like he has a chance to be a really fine young hitter. (Pitcher Jason) Hursh out of this draft is another power arm, a guy that has velocity and is polished. We’ve been impressed with what we’ve seen out of him. Tommy La Stella (Double-A Mississippi second baseman) can really hit; he’s put himself in a spot where people are taking note of his offensive ability. So I think there’s a number of good stories down there.”