Injuries, lack of power hold back Braves

Club showed improvement, winning 13 of 25 to end first half

Injuries, lack of power hold back Braves

The Braves won't realize their optimistic bid to at least flirt with a .500 record this season, but while winning 13 of their final 25 games before the All-Star break, they at least positioned themselves to potentially avoid their first 100-loss season since 1988. Yes, they are still in the early stages of a massive rebuilding project, but this is not the way the club wanted to close the Turner Field era and create excitement leading up to next year's entry to SunTrust Park.

An 0-9 start combined with another eight-game losing streak before the end of April set the stage for manager Fredi Gonzalez to be replaced by Brian Snitker in May. Julio Teheran re-established himself as an All-Star and Freddie Freeman performed like one over the past month. But the combination of injuries, an alarming lack of power and disappointing production from a couple offseason acquisitions who had been targeted to serve as short-term fixes led Atlanta to exit the first half in a position it did not want to be.

Teheran and Freeman have rebounded and shown once again why they are potential cornerstones for the franchise's future. Minus the struggles he encountered over the past couple weeks, Arodys Vizcaino provided stability at the back end of the bullpen. Matt Wisler and Mike Foltynewicz have produced a couple stretches that indicate they could be valuable rotation pieces for many years to come. Before fracturing his right thumb on June 19, Mallex Smith showed he's capable of being a potential difference maker. Ender Inciarte's plate discipline has drawn some criticism, but his aggressive baserunning and Gold Glove-caliber defense have proven beneficial since he returned after missing most of the season's first month with a hamstring injury.

Inciarte's leaping catch

Inciarte played just two games before going on the disabled list, and shortstop Erick Aybar, who was acquired to bridge the gap between Andrelton Simmons and Dansby Swanson, has arguably been one of the game's least productive players through most of the season. Nick Markakis has shown a little more pop recently, but the Braves still have hit 20 fewer home runs than any other team. The rotation has been weakened by injuries, Bud Norris' ugly April and the reality that Aaron Blair was not ready for the big league level.

If Wisler and Foltynewicz continue developing in the right direction and Teheran sticks around beyond the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline, Atlanta has a solid base for future rotations. The inconsistencies that top prospects Sean Newcomb, Lucas Sims and Blair have battled have complicated projections of next year's rotation. This season's first half has also further highlighted the need to surround Freeman with another power bat. But Inciarte and Smith at least provided a glimpse of the production they can provide with their legs.

Freeman recorded two hits in his first 25 at-bats and then struggled to find consistency over the two months that followed. But the two-time All-Star caught fire in the middle of June, spurring the team's season-best six-game winning streak and putting himself on pace to record his first 30-homer season.

Freeman's solo homer

Though a right thigh infection led him to allow five earned runs in both of the final two starts he made before the break, Teheran silenced his doubters as he surrendered two earned runs or fewer in 10 of his past 15 starts and highlighted a 23-inning scoreless streak in June with a one-hit shutout against the Mets. He has been much more effective with his secondary pitches and has become far less dependent on his two-seam fastball -- a pitch that consistently hurt him against left-handed hitters last year.

Though Smith is still raw in some areas, the fleet-footed and cerebral outfielder proved he is a quick learner via the adjustments he made at the plate, on the basepaths and with his defensive routes. He provided indication that he could be the club's leadoff hitter of the future as he compiled a .778 OPS and stole 12 bases over the final 49 games he played before suffering the thumb fracture that will likely sideline him until September.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.