This team can’t be as good in the second half as it was in the first half, can it? Well, so far, second verse, same as the first. Behind an early (and late) barrage of runs, and a dominant performance by Charlie Morton, the Braves picked up where they left off before the ASB, administering a 9-0 shellacking of the Chisox.

After four Braves batters had come to the plate in the first inning, the score was already 4-0.  The inning began: BB to Ronald Acuña, HBP to Ozzie Albies, BB to Austin Riley.  Starting to look like Chicago starter Michael Kopech didn’t have his best control. He did manage to find the plate with a fastball to Matt Olson. Matt made sure that ball found the right field bleachers. Poor Kopech didn’t even get out of the first inning, as he walked two more batters before being relieved by Touki Touissant.  Touki walked Michael Harris II to load the bases again, with Ronald at the plate.  I was starting to get greedy, imagining an 8-0 lead with two first inning slams, but Touki induced Ronald to fly out weakly to right.

Touki gave the Sox just what they needed from that point forward, going five and a third and only surrendering one more run. I’ll admit that I’ve long been a Touki fan, and a part of me was pleased to see him pitching well. At the same time, I was starting to get a little frustrated with the semi-hibernation mode through the middle innings. In fact, after five innings of play, our guys only had three hits. In the sixth, Touki had obviously tired (I imagine he hadn’t come to the ballpark expecting to throw 97 pitches!) but he somehow held the Braves to one run despite three hard balls and two walks in the inning.

I needn’t have been concerned, because Morton was dominant. This was his finest start in what has been a very solid year from him. Through six innings, only 18 Sox came to the plate. No, he wasn’t perfect, as three runners reached on two singles and a walk, but all three were erased on ground ball double plays. Morton almost held them to the minimum through seven, as he gave up one more single, and had a chance to erase that runner on a DP, but Robert just beat the throw to first. He retired the next batter, so Charlie only faced one over the minimum through seven innings. This was a much more efficient Morton than we sometimes see. He threw just 83 pitches in those seven innings, thanks to only one walk and lots of groundballs and soft contact.

Low-leverage relievers Ben Heller and Lucas Luetge completed the shutout with a scoreless eighth and ninth. By the time they entered, there was no real doubt in the outcome (Luetge Leeway?), as the Hammers had added on four more runs in the seventh. Arcia and Harris had run scoring singles and Ozzie a two rbi double.

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As we turn the page to the second half of the season, I thought it would be timely to open the mailbag and answer some of your questions.

Q: Isn’t this first inning dominance getting boring?

A: No, it is not.

Q: Why are you referring to July 14 as the beginning of the second half? Can’t you perform simple arithmetic?

A: By math we’re already into the second half, but by precedent and custom, we call it the second half. I’m a lawyer, and I’ll admit that the legal system does sometimes try to change reality by naming things. That can be dangerous, but in this case I think it’s harmless.

Q: Is this the best Braves’ offense you have ever seen?

A: Yes.

Q: Will they continue to score runs and hit homers at this pace for the rest of the season?

A: It’s kind of hard to imagine. Some guys will likely regress. But I do expect MHII and Riley to turn in better second halves than their overall numbers in the first half, so it may even out. In fact, Harris turned it around a month ago. He’s already on a tear that may leave him with as good a season as he had last year, despite his slow start. He reached base four times last night, on two hits and two walks.

Q: Is Alex Anthopoulos the best GM in the game?

A: I’ll go out on a limb and say yes (sarcasm). Heck, he’s the best of this century. I think it was Cliff who called him the Branch Rickey of the 21st Century. Here is one more data point among many: some questioned the 20 million contract for Charlie Morton, after Charlie’s disappointing 2022. But Morton has been excellent this year at age 39, and with the injuries to Fried and Wright, it’s scary to imagine where the team would be without him. Well, OK, they’d be in first place anyway. But really, Charlie has really stabilized an uncertain rotation. And now he’s on a roll—his ERA in his last six starts is under 1.82.

Another data point for AA’s excellence: Kirby Yates appears to have recovered the form that made him one of the best relievers in the game in 2018-19. Who saw that coming?

Data point three: Matt Olson. His home run was his 30th, making him the first player in franchise history to hit 30 in the first 90 games. He’s on pace to break Andruw’s franchise record of 51.

Q: What great American songwriter was born on July 14?

A: Woody Guthrie. This team is your team, this team is my team. This team was made for you and me. The core of the team is a testament to superior drafting, scouting, and player development. Many on the team were Braves from the beginning. Acuña, Albies were int’l signings, and Riley, Harris, Strider, Elder, Minter, Soroka, Allard were all drafted by the Braves. And AA used Braves draftees to trade for Olson, Murphy, and Arcia. It’s not the same, but even Charlie Morton was drafted by the Braves.

Q: What is more impressive, the Braves offense or pitching?

A: I choose both! By many measures, the offense has been the most prolific in team history. But to me the more remarkable story has been the pitching staff. If we had known in March that Max Fried and Kyle Wright would combine for just 44 innings, with neither pitching after early May, who among us would have predicted that the staff would have the best ERA in the game? Put your hands down—you would not have predicted it either.

Q: Who should AA acquire at the trade deadline?

A: What, you think some rando internet nobody like me should give advice to the greatest GM of the century? In AA I trust.

Q: Who is the most underrated Brave?

A. I’ll go with A.J. Minter. He’s one of the best relievers in the game, and has been for several years. Pretty rare to have a homegrown reliever, drafted as a reliever, never been a starter (except that memorable playoff game against the Dodgers). He pitched to some small sample size bad luck earlier this season, but he’s as solid as they come.

That’s all I see in the mailbag for now, but keep those cards and letters coming!

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The Braves will attempt to keep up their record setting pace in a Striderday evening contest against the White Sox. Spencer goes for his 12th win against the ghost of Lance Lynn.