Braves boast 6 players worthy of All-Star honors

The Atlanta Braves have been a first place club for much of the 2018 season. Though it’s easily Atlanta’s most talented roster in years, much of the success can be tracked to half a dozen players who are putting up career-best numbers.

While it’s no surprise to see Freddie Freeman putting on an MVP pace, he’s got quite the supporting cast this season.

With the All-Star game just over a month away, the Braves have six players who are making a case to earn a spot on the National League roster for the Midsummer Classic. Freeman has earned the honor before, but the over five deserving Braves players could be chosen to play in their first All-Star Game.

The Candidates:

Freddie Freeman

All-Star Stock: An MVP caliber season makes Freddie Freeman a shoo-in for his third All-Star appearance, but he may just earn his first starting assignment. Of course, that all comes down to the fan vote, but Freeman’s credentials are unmatched at first base. He sits atop the NL leaderboard in countless categories and may very well have the inside track on the MVP award were the season to end today.

All-Star Stats: Freeman leads all major league first basemen with a .338 batting average, 43 RBI, 39 runs scored, a .432 on-base percentage and .993 on-base plus slugging. That’s just a handful of over a dozen offensive stats that Freeman is at or near the top of the pack. One stat that really stands out is Freeman’s 3.0 wins above replacement, which is tops in the National League. Again, if the MVP votes were tallied today, Freeman should be the last man standing among NL position players.

Ozzie Albies

All-Star Stock: A torrid start thrust Ozzie Albies’ name into the national spotlight. He’s been leading the National League in extra-base hits and total bases all season, even though his home run rate has slowed. The switch-hitting second baseman will have to contend with the Reds’ Scooter Gennett for the starting job on the NL Squad. Gennett is in the midst of quite the encore to his 2017 breakout season. Albies should make the team, whether he wins the fan vote or is picked as a reserve. That’s quite an accomplishment for a player who opened the season as the youngest man in baseball.

All-Star Stats: Albies leads the NL with 35 extra-base hits and 135 total bases, both of which are eye-popping numbers for a slight of stature second baseman who was never projected to have much power in the minors. Instead, Albies has shattered that perception and swatted 14 home runs in his first 62 games. He leads all NL second basemen with 14 homers, 19 doubles and 51 runs scored. He’s second to Gennett with 70 hits and third among NL second sackers with a .503 slugging percentage. Add that all together and Albies has an undeniable case to head to Washington as an NL All-Star.

Nick Markakis

All-Star Stock: Nick Markakis would certainly qualify as an unlikely All-Star inclusion if we’d run a poll back in spring training, but he’s quietly putting together his best offensive season to date. Markakis has been at or near the top of the league in hitting, while providing steady run production in the heart of the Atlanta lineup. Even his defense has taken a step up this season. A trip to the All-Star game would be his first in a 13-year career.

All-Star Stats: Affixed in the cleanup spot of the Atlanta order, Markakis has been the most productive right fielder in the National League. You’d expect Bryce Harper, but you get Nick Markakis. He’s been top five in the league in hitting and is currently pacing the NL with 81 hits, just one ahead of Freeman. Additionally, Markakis leads all NL right fielders with a .328 AVG, .392 OBP, .890 OPS, 18 doubles, 42 RBI, 39 runs scored and a 2.1 WAR – which is seventh best in the league. Any way you slice it, Markakis has been the best all-around player at his position and that merits a trip to the All-Star game.

Sean Newcomb

All-Star Stock: Every staff needs a number one starter and Sean Newcomb has been that for the Braves. While the club hoped his big strikeout stuff would eventually help him mature into a successful major league starter, Newcomb has exceeded all expectations over the first two months. He has utilized a changeup to round out an arsenal that already featured one of the best curveballs in the game. The Braves rotation may have entered the spring with a few questions to answer, but Newcomb’s name no longer appears on that list.

All-Star Stats: Newcomb has compiled a 7-1 record to go along with a 2.49 ERA which ranks ninth in the NL. He’s striking out nearly a better per inning and has lowered both his walk and hit rates from his rookie season. Opponents are batting just .201 against Newcomb, the fourth best mark in the league. Additionally, he is the second hardest pitcher in the NL to hit a home run against, allowing just 0.39 HR per 9 innings pitched. Newcomb has surrendered just three home runs through 12 starts, which is tied for the fewest among all qualified starters in baseball. He enters the weekend with a 42 inning homerless streak.

Mike Foltynewicz

All-Star Stock: Speaking of big strikeout stuff, Mike Foltynewicz has been trying to put it all together since 2015. That’s when he made his Atlanta debut as a hard-throwing but unproven prospect. In the three seasons that have followed, Foltynewicz has seen his fair share of ups and downs, but that all seems to have led him to a breakout season in 2018.

All-Star Stats: His complete game shut-out against the Nationals on June 1 seemed to be a turning point in the general perception of what Foltynewicz is and can be going forward. That dominant performance included a career-high 11 strikeouts. His 2.31 ERA and 88 strikeouts are both fifth best in the NL heading into the second week in June. Foltynewicz is averaging 10.7 K/9 IP, which is likewise the fifth best mark by any National League starter. Opponents are hitting just .204 against him, which is sixth in the NL. One more encouraging stat is home run rate, which he’s cut in half from a year ago. The scary thing is, Foltynewicz just now seems to be fully tapping into his potential, so the best could be yet to come.

Dan Winkler

All-Star Stock: A longshot for this midseason honor, Dan Winkler has been Atlanta’s most effective reliever. An amazing story of perseverance, he’s piling up strikeouts and leaving opponents to shake their heads. Winkler has been one of the best relievers in the National League but may fall short in this quest due to the fact he’s not a closer and those roster spots are at a premium. Regardless of his potential All-Star status, the rest of the league has taken notice.

All-Star Stats: Just how good has Dan Winkler been? I’m glad you asked. Among NL relievers with at least 20 innings pitched, Winkler’s 1.07 ERA ranks fifth and his 1.30 fielding independent pitching (FIP) is second. He’s one of just three NL relievers with at least 25 innings pitched who has yet to allow a home run. Winkler’s 12.63 K/9 IP rank 10th in the league. Add it all up and Winkler has compiled a 1.0 WAR to this point. That is the fifth best in the National League. He may not have the saves and the glory that comes with closing games, but Winkler has been a big reason for Atlanta’s success over the first few months.

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