When the injuries to the Atlanta Braves starters happened in Spring Training, many fans and analysts were really worried. The general consensus was that the Braves would have to make some moves to “weather the storm” until Mike Minor and Gavin Floyd could bail out the staff. Going .500 in this stretch would have been perfectly acceptable for many fans and stat-heads, considering that Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana were stopgap measures.
How far we’ve come now. Had you asked me if the Braves could be leading the league in ERA at the end of April, I would have laughed at you. Yet, that’s a very real possibility. The Braves pitching staff isn’t “weathering any storms,” it’s thriving on the vine. Coming into Sunday, the Braves had a MLB-best team ERA of 2.14, which was well ahead of second place Milwaukee with 2.52. There are only 4 teams in the major leagues that have a sub-3.00 ERA right now: Braves, Brewers, A’s, and Cardinals. If you thought this would be the case, and that the pitching would be carrying this Braves team as we get ready to flip the calendar, I would have called you a liar.
Let’s be fair, if it wasn’t for the pitching success, the Braves would be a .500 ball club at best. I’m probably being generous, since the Braves are 24th in runs scored. However, Atlanta is 2nd in the league in run differential at +30. Can you imagine how many wins this club would have if their hitting was firing on all cylinders? I’d hesitate to say that they they could have made it out of April with only 2-3 losses.
A few things jumped out at my over the last week, not counting the game this Sunday (being played as I write this). I’ll do what I call the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on this week. The Good was Jason Heyward making some strides in breaking his slump. Over the last 7 days, Jason went 8/25 for an average of .320, and OBP of .370, and 2 RBIs. That’s much better out of the potential leadoff hitter that we’ve seen this season. The Bad is that Jason only scored one run, which meant the hitters behind him were not getting the job done. Part of that was Freeman not misting his eyeballs enough. Part of that may be BJ needing to unleash his inner nerd. Either way, the Braves only scored 26 runs on the week, 25th in the MLB.
The Ugly of the week was Chris Johnson and Dan Uggla. Both hit a combined 6/45, which is a .133 batting average. They also only took 2 walks, so the on-base wasn’t much better. Both were basically useless from the plate this entire week, with no extra base hits, no RBIs, and only 3 runs scored. I am happy they are least scored the runs. Otherwise they could have spent the week on the DL, and nobody would have noticed. Except for the 13 strikeouts fanning off the crowd in the cheap seats.
On a season trending note, I’m wondering what purpose Ryan Doumit serves on this team. I’ve seen him play catcher twice, and it was an unmitigated disaster as the opposing teams stole 7 bases. So, if he’s not really a backup catcher, we must need him for the bat right? Not really. His OPS is the lowest on the team at .352, which is actually lower than Ervin Santana. Ervin Santana who played in the American league for his entire MLB career until this year. So, Ryan Doumit is hitting worse than a pitcher coming out of a league where he wasn’t required to hit. Am I driving the point home hard enough yet? Should I crack out sock puppets that can’t hit? Ryan Doumit has been a waste of a roster spot through April, and I’m not sure why the Braves are wasting the space on him if he can’t be a true catcher and can’t hit. If the Braves need a backup OF slot, we could replace him with Jose Constanza and not be worse for wear.
I don’t dislike Doumit, but we already have a functional backup catcher in Laird. Also, while Gerald isn’t hitting well, he’s still hitting above .575 OPS, which I can live with as a backup. Dan Uggla, Jason Heyward, and BJ Upton can’t say they are hitting for better OPS than Laird, because they aren’t. That just leads me to believe that the Braves need to make a decision with Doumit over the month of May. If he improves in PH situations, or starts hitting for power again, great. If not, we have guys in AAA who are faster and get on base better in a PH scenario. This is all assuming that Laird and Gattis stay healthy.
Going into next week, I’m looking to see if Jason Heyward continues to improve. Table-setting is going to be huge with BJ and Freeman both seeing the ball better. Also, I’m looking to see what happens with David Hale. He had a great outing on Saturday night, but the writing seems to be on the wall. I’m hoping he gets a shot to go to the pen, but the Braves may want to send him back down to AAA to work on his starting pitching.Third, I want to see if our pitchers can actually execute a sacrifice bunt when they need one. So far, that lack of bunting has been a bugaboo of the starting rotation.
Either way, it should be an interesting week as the Braves take on the Marlins in Miami and then the Giants at home. Make sure to get your tickets for the weekend against the Giants. That series may feature Mike Minor’s first start back for the team on Friday, and we’re all looking forward to that.