It was a historic first half of the 2023 season for the Atlanta Braves, reaching heights not many had reached in franchise history.
Between Ronald Acuña Jr.'s march toward his first MVP, the best June in Major League Baseball, and a lot of home runs being hit, it's probably the most fun I've had watching this team since they won the World Series two years ago.
There's a lot about the first half some of us have already forgotten after this incredible start. Remember the Astros coming into Truist Park and sweeping the Braves? Or Atlanta going to Toronto and walking out with zero wins? At one point, this team lost five of seven games before going on a 24-3 tear to put them 30 games above .500. Two of those losses came by one run!
The first half is done and the Braves are still in the driver's seat for a sixth-straight NL East crown. Let's take a look at the road ahead to reach that goal in the second half of the 2023 season.
Chicago White Sox at Home (July 14-16)
Because of the current status of the AL Central, which is not great, 80% of the division is within striking distance of a playoff spot. Cleveland and Minnesota are going back and forth with the division lead while hovering around .500. Meanwhile, Detroit and the Chicago White Sox are just a few games behind them.
The White Sox have never operated at 100% in 2023, and still have a few contributors down with injuries now. Still, this team has some solid pieces making up the roster. Luis Robert Jr. is top five in WAR this season and leads the team in home runs (24), OPS (.912), and total bases (181). Andrew Vaughn and Andrew Benintendi are solid bats in the order as well.
Pitching-wise, it's kind of [I start mumbling and trailing off].
Bottom ten in MLB this year in ERA, home runs allowed (third most in baseball), and second most walks issued. On paper, this team is not a good matchup for the Braves. Of course, right after the All-Star break, Atlanta will have to make sure to avoid an emotional let-down after such a great first half.
Arizona Diamondbacks at Home (July 18-20)
An NL team coming out of nowhere buoyed by a young superstar making waves in the MVP race. Sound familiar?
Behind Corbin Carroll's incredible start to his major league career, the Arizona Diamondbacks finished the first half at the top of the NL West. Which, anytime it's not the Dodgers, is cause for some praise.
Carroll is not the only Diamondback contributing at the plate. Arizona has gotten meaningful contributions from Ketel Marte and Christian Walker, as well as off-season trade acquisitions Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Gabriel Moreno.
The parallels between this Diamondbacks team and recently successful Braves teams are there, and presents the first big test of the second half for this Atlanta squad. The Diamondbacks will likely be active as of the deadline, searching for another bat and a starter to push this team higher into contention for the NL pennant.
Milwaukee Brewers on the Road, at Home (July 21-23, July 28-30)
A roller-coaster of a season for the NL Central is starting to round into the form we expected it to. Well, almost.
After a six-game losing streak that included a sweep at the hands of the 2023 Oakland Athletics, (YES, a real thing that can happen) the Milwaukee Brewers ended June by winning seven of ten games to pull even with the Cincinnati Reds for the division lead. Just like we all expected.
Christian Yelich is putting together a solid all-around year at the plate. His wRC+ and OPS+ sit at above-average numbers, and he's on pace to easily clear the career-low numbers he posted in 2022. Old friend William Contreras has taken on the primary catching duties in Milwaukee, and the 25-year-old is on pace to clear some of his career-best numbers he ended last season with.
What once was one of the better pitching staffs in baseball has been whittled down by injuries and regression. Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta have both seen their ERAs balloon over 4.00. Injuries led to the Brewers bringing in another familiar face, Julio Teheran, to make some starts.
With the resurgent Reds now firmly in the mix in the division, Milwaukee is another team that could look different by the time they come to Atlanta near the end of July.
MLB Trade Deadline (August 1)
As crazy as it seems to say, there's not a lot of holes to plug on this Braves team.
That's not going to stop Alex Anthopoulos from doing what he does every trade deadline: work in silence, announce them yourself, and reap the rewards.
There's probably not a blockbuster that the Braves have queued up (No, they're not trading for Shohei Ohtani) but considering some of the big names that could be on the move this summer, Atlanta will be working the phones to keep pace with the rest of the league.
There's room for another bullpen arm to get added to the fold, a bench piece, or a veteran starter to fill the current gap in the back of the rotation.
Los Angeles Angels at Home (July 31-August 2)
Stop what you're doing.
Open the ticket vendor of your choice.
Buy the necessary amount of tickets needed for you and your family.
Go see Shohei Ohtani play in person.
It's as simple as that. The Angels are a middling team right now outside of Ohtani and Mike Trout, but dominate the evening highlights with the AL MVP frontrunner continuing to dominate baseball.
That's it, that's the preview of this series.
New York Mets on the Road, at Home (August 11-13, August 21-23)
Last year was proof that no lead is safe in the NL East, especially in the dog days of Summer.
The Mets still have a deep roster loaded with All-Star talent, between Pete Alonso, Max Scherzer, and Justin Verlander, and despite their miserable first half, can still shake things up in the NL playoff picture.
It won't be as dramatic as the three-game series in Atlanta that ultimately decided the division, but these seven games in August present a key turning point in the Braves' race for the NL East title.
Los Angeles Dodgers on the Road (August 31-September 3)
Two of the NL's best collide at Dodger Stadium to open the final month of the 2023 season, in a series that could decide who takes the top seed for the playoffs.
Atlanta already dropped two games to LA back in May, allowing almost 20 runs over the three-game set.
Freddie Freeman is still playing at an elite level, on pace to finish hitting up .300 for the seventh season in the last eight years. He's just the tip of a dangerous lineup that can rival the Braves in terms of depth.
There will be a lot of eyes on this matchup, especially after the Trade Deadline.
NL East Frenzy (September 11-24)
A nearly two-week stretch of only NL East opponents as the 2023 season winds to a close, and what could be several opportunities for the Braves to clinch a division crown.
Atlanta heads back to Citizens Bank Park for four games with the Phillies before continuing the road trip back down South in Miami. The Braves return to Truist Park for three more games against Philadelphia before going back on the road for four games against the Washington Nationals.
While this stretch is tough, the month is bookended with some softer opponents for Atlanta to extend their divisional lead.
What series are you looking forward to watching in the second half?