Another week has gone by, and the Atlanta Braves continue their early season dominance for the second year in a row. The third week of baseball saw a two city road trip, Philadelphia and New York, with the Braves winning each of the series, and only dropping one (the final game) in each. And, again, while it is still incredibly early here in the 2014 season, with every game we are getting a clearer and clearer picture as to what this years Braves team is really all about. So, with all of that being said, I ask you – what have we learned?
The starting pitching is in fine shape. Even after yesterday’s loss to the Mets, which saw David Hale‘s ERA skyrocket to 2.93 (up from 2.89) and the Braves’ starting staff ERA, which is still best in the majors, go from 1.46 to 1.56 (thanks to @Braves_Paul on twitter for those numbers, by the way) which is pretty damn good three weeks into the season, if you ask me. To go along with Hale’s ERA, the numbers look like this: Aaron Harang has a 0.70, Ervin Santana sports a 0.86, Alex Wood finds himself with a 1.67, and Julio Teheran is averaging just 1.93 earned runs over his outings. While it sounds awful to say, I think the Braves got one step closer in to figuring out what to do when the first of Mike Minor or Gavin Floyd is ready to return to the rotation, by bumping out Hale who, again, sits at under 3 in his ERA. Not many teams in baseball have this problem, and while we know all too well that this will work itself out in the most awful of ways (injury bug!) later in the year, it’s fun to speculate for now.
The bullpen needs help. Let me preface this point by saying this – in no way is the Braves bullpen bad. Oh contrare. Ask any baseball fan who you’d least like to face in the 7th-9th innings of ballgames, and the Braves are still at the top of that list. However, the certainty that we saw in the O’Ventbrel (still the best combination nickname in sports) era is not quite there – at this point in the season, that is. Just this past week, we saw three games nearly fall in the hands of the bullpen; the Dan Uggla game in Philly, and the final two games of the Mets series, which saw Craig Kimbrel give up two runs and saw Gus Schlosser (who I still really like and will be the happiest person to see him turn around) get the loss in a 14 inning marathon yesterday (although, in 14 innings, that isn’t to say it’s entirely the bullpen’s fault). With all the bad games the bullpen has had to open the year, there have for sure been more good ones, and Ian Thomas continues to impress in his opening month.
The Braves are scoring runs late. Since the Phillies series began on Monday, the Braves have scored 16 runs in the 8th or 9th innings, with too many games to care for actually coming down to that extra 8th or 9th inning run. (Which, again, goes back to the lack of certain dominance the ‘pen has to open the season.) I nearly called this section “The Braves are still hitting the long ball, but with men on base,” but figured I could fit that into a broader idea – but either way you put it, it’s true. While I don’t have the numbers to throw at you for proof, I just feel like last year, we saw the Braves hit so many bombs, but they all came with no one on. This year, however, the big home runs are coming at big times, and the guy or two in front of whoever is hitting the home run is having good at bats (or, in the case of a walk, plate appearances), to get on base and place an automatic crooked number on the scoreboard.
The early season success of the the Braves over the past couple of years has been incredibly fun to watch, and this year, they’re doing it much of the same as they did last year. It seems that power is coming from everywhere in the lineup here in 2014, and while the pitching staff can’t pitch lights out forever, it’s certainly fun to watch them do it now. The Braves clinched the division last year because of the hot start, and hopefully, this start can propel them to do the same exact thing.