Monday, April 30, 2012
The Braves are Really Good
One month of the season in the books, and some things are unfolding as expected. And of course, most are not. The Rangers are winning at a rate that far exceeds their capabilities. The Angels are losing as a similar pace. The AL East is backwards. The pot stirrers on ESPN are already attempting to blow hot air against the sails that currently buoy the Orioles atop the standings. My memory ain't so good, but I do have recollections of very bad teams starting out the season strong, only to have their lack of depth and consistency expose them for the cellar dwellers that they are by the end of May. The Tigers are mediocre at the moment. The Cardinals are playing great baseball sans Pujols and La Russa and Duncan. The Dodgers are just plain silly. The Cubs are providing the stability that enables us all to stay rooted at this early juncture of the season. But what surprises me, despite how unsurprising it is, would have to be the success of the Atlanta Braves. I thought they would be good, but they may just be better than we all thought.
The Braves entered the season with a roster as full of question marks as it was talent. Would Jason Heyward take the next step? Freddie Freeman? Would Prado get back to his 2010 form and stay healthy? Will Chipper stay healthy? Will Uggla be more consistent? Hansen? Will two of the young pitching prospects emerge to their full potential?
If all of these ifs came to fruition, the Braves would be damn near unstoppable. That could be said for several teams. Not all of the ifs ever come through. But so far in 2012, the Braves are rolling with a tank half empty.
The Braves are 14-8 as of this writing. It looks as though they will finish the month 14-9. This is after opening the season with four straight losses. They are tied with St. Louis with the most runs scored in the National League. And nobody is hitting all that well.
The Braves currently have but two hitters with an OBP over .350. And those would be Uggla and Bourn, players who don't stand to maintain that mark. McCann is struggling. Chipper, while productive, is day-to-day until he retires, and the revolving door of mediocrity that is Matt Diaz and Juan Francisco does not help much. Nobody has hit more than three home runs.
But the offense is spread out. McCann is the only player hitting below .260. So far the Braves are getting those timely hits, and their offense isn't even performing at full potential.
The pitching has been the key. Hansen still has a functioning right arm, and he's been good. Beachy has been incredible. Minor, solid. Delgado looks to improve. Hudson looks to be an above average major league pitcher, and for the sake of comfort, he brings the lazy Atlanta fans out to the ballpark. And their bullpen is still amazing, with Kris Medlen emerging as a dominant reliever to go along with Kimbrel, Venters, and O'Flaherty. And then there's the underrated Christhian Martinez. Let us not discuss Livan Hernandez. Manager Fredi Gonzales seems far too partial to 'ol Livan, and it will likely cost the Braves some games down the line (as with his eagerness to play Francisco too often and to sit Heyward against lefties). It is amazing how many good teams win in spite of their manager (lookin' at you Texas!)
The Braves haven't lost a series since their opening 3-game sweep at the hands of the Mets. And they only seem to be getting warmed up. Injuries will likely happen, and the Braves aren't deep. But I expect Prado, Heyward, Freeman, and McCann to all improve. If nothing tragic occurs, we could be looking at a 100 win team. Perhaps that will fill every seat in Turner Field. But I wouldn't bet on it.