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At 15-18, the Braves are nobody's idea of a juggernaut. However, after the front office dismantled much of the roster that finished 29th in runs scored a year ago, many fans and Fantasy owners probably figured Atlanta's offense had nowhere to go but down, as improbable as that may have seemed.
As we approach the one-quarter point of the season, the Braves are tied for 12th with the Red Sox in runs scored with 142. Nick Markakis is having a nice bounceback season, Andrelton Simmons appears to be breaking out and A.J. Pierzynski has Father Time in a full nelson. With that unexpected support, Freddie Freeman isn't getting pitched around, as many expected, and he is on pace to have his best season to date.
Some lower-profile players are pitching in as well. Specifically, Kelly Johnson and Jace Peterson have performed beyond expectations, and both are unowned in the vast majority of the leagues on CBSSports.com. I'm putting the spotlight on them here in this space in the hopes of changing that.
The Braves' pitching has been a not a (Mike) Minor problem, but rather a major disappointment. That could change if Minor gets healthy and if Julio Teheran and Alex Wood join Shelby Miller as reliable starters, and despite a 4.24 ERA, Mike Foltynewicz has shown some signs of being a pitcher on the rise. Like Johnson and Peterson, Foltynewicz is still available for the taking in a wide swath of leagues.
Kelly Johnson, 1B/3B/OF, Braves (26 percent owned)
In the initial weeks of the season, the Braves used Johnson sparingly, but since late April, his bat has kept him in the lineup on a regular basis. Johnson has started 15 of the last 17 games, and over that stretch, he has batted .296 with four home runs, three doubles and 16 RBI. If you don't buy into the batting average, keep in mind that so far this season, Johnson has been striking out less than usual, collecting a K in just 17 percent of his at-bats (and he's been on roughly the same pace during his recent hot streak). Over his last 16 games, Johnson has posted an utterly sustainable .300 BABIP as well.
What makes Johnson notable, though, is his power. He's been a 20-homer threat before, and his current surge is no fluke, as he leads qualifying hitters in average flyball distance. The ranks of third basemen don't lack for power hitters, but Johnson is still worth a flier in standard mixed leagues. If you've been muddling through at the position with the likes of Adrian Beltre, Xander Bogaerts or Josh Harrison, there's not much to lose by giving Johnson an audition and benching your struggling starter.
Jace Peterson, 2B, Braves (9 percent owned)
Unlike Johnson, Peterson does not have enough power to merit consideration in standard mixed leagues, but he is underowned nonetheless. He has overcome an ice-cold start, having gone 7 for 41 (.171) in his first 15 games, but he is 20 for 51 (.392) since. Peterson had been a good contact hitter in the minors, and that form has been on display during his recent 15-game tear, as he has struck out only four times.
All but one of Peterson's 20 hits during his streak have been singles, and there is little reason to expect much more power than that going forward. However, Peterson draws walks and can pitch in with steals -- he has three so far -- and that gives him appeal well beyond NL-only leagues.
Mike Foltynewicz, RP, Braves (26 percent owned)
In his third start since his callup from Triple-A Gwinnett, Foltynewicz recorded his first career quality start, turning in 6 2/3 solid innings at the Reds. Even having allowed just two earned runs in that start, Foltynewicz's ERA is still a healthy 4.24. However, he has struck out seven batters in back-to-back outings, getting swings-and-misses on 12 percent of his pitches in those starts. With 10 walks over a total of 17 innings this season, it would appear that Foltynewicz has not solved his control issues, but he has thrown a respectable 64 percent of his pitches for strikes.
A .354 BABIP has helped to inflate the 23-year-old's ERA, as well as his 1.71 WHIP, but as long as he keep throwing strikes, both marks should improve. Meanwhile, Foltynewicz should be a reliable source of strikeouts. He's not quite ready to be a streaming option in standard mixed leagues, but that time might not be far off.