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Upstart Braves in fascinating spot for 2nd half

Club could bolster bullpen, bench, but likely won't mortgage future for run this year
MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- Freddie Freeman entered the All-Star break saying the Braves are right where they want to be. Despite struggling through the first two weeks of July, they sit a half-game back in the National League East, which nobody could have predicted when handicapping the division race before the season.

Freeman's MVP bid may be challenged by one young teammate (Ozzie Albies) and quite possibly one of his older teammates (Nick Markakis). That trio has consistently fueled an offense that has not benefited from the best of Ronald Acuna Jr., who has struggled with injuries and inconsistency. But Atlanta's bid to reach the postseason will be largely determined by the continued success of its surprising, young pitching staff, with strides made by Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb.

ATLANTA -- Freddie Freeman entered the All-Star break saying the Braves are right where they want to be. Despite struggling through the first two weeks of July, they sit a half-game back in the National League East, which nobody could have predicted when handicapping the division race before the season.

Freeman's MVP bid may be challenged by one young teammate (Ozzie Albies) and quite possibly one of his older teammates (Nick Markakis). That trio has consistently fueled an offense that has not benefited from the best of Ronald Acuna Jr., who has struggled with injuries and inconsistency. But Atlanta's bid to reach the postseason will be largely determined by the continued success of its surprising, young pitching staff, with strides made by Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb.

Video: ATL@STL: Foltynewicz pitches 5 innings of 1-hit ball

More consistency from Newcomb and Julio Teheran would improve the rotation, which stumbled over the past couple weeks and consequently enhanced concerns about the bullpen, which must be upgraded for the Braves to remain in contention for the division title or a Wild Card berth. At least one reliever will likely be added before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, but the 'pen may also be strenghtened by temporarily transitioning some starting-pitching prospects to a relief role.

Current status: Buyer
How aggressive the Braves are remains to be seen, as they must stay cognizant of the fact that it would not be wise to mortgage the next few years in exchange to fill one of the multiple holes on this year's team. But at the same time, Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos knows he owes it to his team and the fans to make a concerted effort to make an upgrade before the Trade Deadline.

What they are seeking: At least one relief pitcher, a bench bat and possibly a starting pitcher
Dating back to April, it has been apparent the Braves would seek a reliever and that need has been magnified, as Dan Winkler and Shane Carle have shown signs of fatigue. Ryan Flaherty led the NL in hitting most of April, but without consistent playing time, he has provided little offensively for a bench that currently counts Charlie Culberson and Preston Tucker as its top options. It wouldn't be wise to stunt the development of prospects, but with uncertainty about whether Mike Soroka will pitch again this year and other injuries weakening the rotation's depth, it might be beneficial to find a back-end starter.

Video: BAL@ATL: Soroka on being placed on the 10-day DL

What they have to offer: High-quality prospects
Though the pipeline is thin on position players, the Braves are loaded with top pitching prospects who have drawn interest across the league. But Atlanta will not part ways with any of its top prospects in exchange for two-month rentals. But their depth creates some margin for error that may lead them to at least consider offering Kolby Allard, Ian Anderson or Max Fried in a deal that would include an above-average return. Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint, Joey Wentz and Bryse Wilson would draw interest, but there would likely be significant reluctance to move any of them.

Possible scenario
It's not as sexy as a return of Manny Machado and Zach Britton, but let's project the Braves receive veteran closer Joakim Soria and corner infielder Matt Davidson from the White Sox in exchange for Fried, corner infielder Rio Ruiz and catcher Alex Jackson.

Video: Soria has proven to be a solid option at closer

At an approximate cost of $3 million, Soria would fill a big need within a bullpen that doesn't know how reliable Vizcaino's shoulder will be the rest of the way. Davidson would supply right-handed power off the bench and allow for Johan Camargo to be deployed more versatilely from a defensive aspect. Fried would be reunited with childhood friend Lucas Giolito. Jackson's prospect status has taken a significant hit as it's become clear William Contreras will likely be the Braves' catcher of the future.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves