With the NCAA Basketball Tournament being followed by The Masters and the end of the NHL and NBA seasons, and the respective Playoffs for each league beginning, it can be a busy time for a sports fan and many fans tend to put Major League Baseball on the back burner until later in the summer. Lucky for you Braves fans, I’ve had eyes on almost every game so far this season and have put together an early season recap so you don’t have to tune into every game to be able to talk about the exciting start to the season.
The Atlanta Braves currently own a record of 8-6, which is good for 3rd place in the National League East Division, trailing Philadelphia by a game and the New York Mets by 4 games. The Braves opened the season with series wins over Philadelphia, Washington, and Colorado before falling in a series on the road to Washington and splitting a series with the Cubs. All of the Braves opponents so far this season are expected to be contenders for this year’s Playoffs, making the 8-6 record that much more impressive. The Braves head into the week with a chance to make up ground in the NL East, beginning a 7-game homestand on Monday with 3 games against the Phillies followed by a 4 game series with the scorching hot Mets who own a record of 12-2.
Braves Offense Off To Hot Start
The Braves are currently first in the National League in the following categories: Hits, Doubles, Runs Batted In, Batting Average, On-Base Percentage, Extra Base Hits, and Sacrifice Bunts. They are second in the National League in runs scored and walks drawn, and only 9 teams in the entire Major League have struck out less than Braves hitters. And once the Braves reach base safely, they are then a threat to steal a base, with the team ranking 5th in the MLB in stolen bases.
Other than struggling leadoff man, Ender Inciarte, who is hitting just .179 so far on the season after hitting just over .300 last year and winning a Gold Glove, almost every other Braves starter has opened the season hitting the ball really well.
Ozzie Albies currently leads the Majors in extra base hits with 14, total bases with 45, and doubles with 8. Albies has also hit 5 homeruns, good for 3rd in the entire league while driving in 11 RBI’s, scoring 13 runs, and batting .313. This kid can play some freakin baseball.
His teammate and fellow middle infielder, shortstop Dansby Swanson, is hitting a fiery .357 and has 20 hits to tie Albies for the team lead, which includes 7 doubles trailing Ozzie by 1. Freddie Freeman has been steady as expected, batting .320 with a team-high 12 RBI’s to go along with 8 extra base hits, and a Majors leading 17 walks drawn.
Ryan Flaherty, who was signed just before the season began, has also been a pleasant surprise, with a batting average of .366 good for 4th in the MLB. Preston Tucker has also been solid, starting the season as the everyday left fielder Tucker is tied for the team-high in RBI’s with Freeman at 12 and he’s hitting right at .300. The always steady Nick Markakis isn’t far behind, hitting .298 so far on the season with 17 hits good for 3rd on the team.
Seriously, other than Inciarte (who I fully expect to get in a rhythm sooner rather than later) and the catcher position, that saw Tyler Flowers suffer an oblique injury on Opening Day and backup Kurt Suzuki suffer a hand injury due to being hit by a pitch on the following day that sidelined him for a few games, the rest of the team has gotten off to a great start.
Do I believe that the Braves will lead the NL in team batting average and extra base hits at the end of the season? Not necessarily, but seeing the team put the ball in play rather than being near the top of the league in strikeouts is a welcome site and getting into a rhythm early is always preferred to the alternative.
On the Mound
Atlanta’s starting pitchers are currently the median of the league in terms of ERA, checking in at 15th, however they are just 20th among other stating rotations in total innings pitched are 11th in terms of walks given out. These numbers need to improve.
Julio Teheran has a record of 0-1 in his first 3 starts with just 14 innings pitched, 10 Bases on Balls, and 4 homers allowed to go with a 7.07 ERA. In his last start in a loss at Washington, Teheran gave us just 2 runs in 6 innings and looked sharp for the most part, which is hopefully a sign of things to come. Julio takes the mound on Monday evening against the Phillies and will look to pick up his first win of the season.
Young starters Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb both sport 1-1 records through 3 starts, with Folty fanning 18 batters and allowing just 5 walks, 5 earned runs and Newcomb allowing just 7 earned runs. The Braves really need these 2 guys to develop into strong members of the rotation this season, and both look ready to accept the challenge.
Veterans Brandon McCarthy and Anibal Sanchez have 3 combined wins in 6 combined starts, with McCarthy leading all Braves starters in innings pitched and Sanchez leading the group with a 1.29 ERA and just 2 earned runs allowed.
The Braves starting pitching has been good enough so far this season due to the hot bats on the offensive side of the game, but we are going to need the starters to get deeper into games so the bullpen can stay somewhat fresh, and ease up on the number of bases on balls being handed out if the Braves want to maintain a winning record.
Calling the Bullpen (Quite a Bit)
The Braves bullpen has allowed the fewest homeruns, 6th fewest hits, and are in the top 10 in terms of total runs allowed. These are all good things. On the flip side, the Braves bullpen is 1st in Walks, 1st in Hit Batters, and 1st in Wild Pitches- all while being 15th in total inning pitched, 11th in number of pitches thrown. All of this is combined for an ERA of 2.88, good for 9th in the league. That ERA is pretty damn impressive when you consider the number of walks and wild pitches the bullpen has cost themselves. Most of the damage to the bullpen’s numbers came in Saturday’s epic meltdown to the Cubs in which the bullpen allowed 9 runs in the 8th inning.
Shane Carle leads the bullpen with 10.2 innings pitched in 6 games, going 2-1 and allowing just 1 walk and 2 earned runs to sport a 1.69 ERA. Sam Freeman (7.1 IP) and Dan Winkler (8 IP) have allowed 3 and 2 hits respectively to go along with just 3 combined earned runs. Veteran Peter Moylan (4 IP) and rising prospect A.J. Minter (7 IP) are both yet to allow a run in the early season, however Moylan and closer Arodys Vizcaino both hold a bullpen-high 6 bases on balls. Jose Ramirez has been the ugly duckling of the bunch so far, allowing 8 earned runs in just 5.1 innings pitched through 6 appearances, good for an ERA of 13.50.
Bottom line for the Braves bullpen is they have got to show better control of their pitches than they have early in the season. Despite the control issues, they have actually pitched pretty well when faced with jams and in pressure situations, but eventually all of the free bases will catch up to you, so let’s hope they get it figured out soon.
Quick Glance at Rising Prospects
Due to the solid start to the season of Preston Tucker in left field, the Braves should not feel rushed to call up presumed future star, Ronal Acuna Jr., who has gotten off to a very slow start with AAA Gwinnett. The young power hitter with blazing speed has just 5 hits in 37 at-bats to go along with 12 strikeouts. After a great Spring Training, it is a bit of surprise to see Acuna struggling, but it won’t be very long before he is the everyday starting left fielder for this Braves team.
Right Handed Pitcher, Mike Soroka, has gotten off to a solid start with Gwinnett, recording 13 strikeouts in 2 starts and owning a 1-0 record. Lefty Luiz Gohara is recovering from an injury he suffered just before Opening Day, as he was expected to be the 5th starter in the rotation to open the season. Fellow lefty Max Fried has thrown well in starts in both AA and AAA this year, and after being called up late in the 2017 season, we could very well see Fried in the big leagues once again this year.
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)