Atlanta Braves: Are they living up to the hype so far?
Well, that was quite a first series for the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies, wasn’t it?
Two long-time division rivals squaring off in the first of many matchups this season. Obviously, as all baseball writers tend to say, it’s a long season and drawing too many conclusions from three games is a fool’s errand at best. But compared to spring training, there’s some information we can take away, and we can always keep talking and speculating, can’t we?
So, as we look at the strengths and weaknesses discussed endlessly through the offseason, and we compare that to what we saw over these three games, there’s enough to get us going.
First off, let’s talk power hitting for a moment! I’m tempted to say the hype wasn’t just hype. There was a clear showing of offensive strength through the first two games. In fact, those two games felt something like a home run derby — six home runs over two games? Facing two power pitchers? The Atlanta Braves scored 16 runs in 18 innings with 19 hits. No matter what, those are impressive numbers, and any pitcher should be trembling a little when taking the mound against this lineup.
Any pitcher, that is, except for Cliff Lee.
But Jason Heyward got in on the action, as well as Justin Upton, Dan Uggla, rookie Evan Gattis, and offensive monster Freddie Freeman. Upton’s two dingers were awesome to watch, but Freeman was slapping the ball all over the place. Needless to say, those two games had everyone talking about huge power numbers, until Lee took the mound and grounded us all.
The flipside of that coin is obviously the strikeout totals that have also been a big topic of conversation, and 34 over three games is a number that makes my stomach hurt. But before we all go ga-ga over that, let’s keep in mind that the Braves faced three dominant pitchers in Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Lee. Even Halladay, who seems to be losing steam, is a veteran who knows how to pitch. And even though Hamels and Halladay only combined for a total of 8 1/3 innings, they aren’t pushovers. I think we’ll definitely see another side to this lineup as the Atlanta Braves host the Chicago Cubs this weekend.
Now, let’s talk about what actually concerns me this week: pitching.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad showing. But without the strong offense, these games could have ended differently. Tim Hudson, who opened the season, was a little shaky. I think manager Fredi Gonzalez pulled him before he needed to, but what the Atlanta Braves needed was an opening-day win, and he erred on the side of caution. Hudson’s six hits, three walks and three earned runs over 4.1 innings was unusual, and it seemed like he had a hard time keeping his composure. But, again, he’s a veteran, and how he pitched three days ago likely won’t be the same way he’ll pitch this weekend.
Paul Maholm followed with the best start of the three games, but he still gave up six hits and got himself into more than one jam. He kept his composure, though, and found a way through it without giving up a run and striking out six. Whatever gets the job done, right? Kris Medlen had the shakiest start, giving up six hits and walking four, loading the bases twice in one inning. Frankly, it’s surprising he only gave up two runs, which could’ve easily been no big deal if Lee wasn’t shutting the offense down in the meantime.
I think the real pitching star for the Atlanta Braves this week was reliever Luis Avilan, who stepped in for Hudson in a sticky situation and absolutely shut the Phillies down in game one, setting the table for a dominant win in the opener. But the rest of the Atlanta Braves bullpen performed admirably, even while giving up a couple runs. Fans got a chance to see all of them this week, which is a plus, since more than one pitcher will leave a game in their able hands this season.
Did I mention that this was a long season?
While some Atlanta Braves fans may see game three against the Phillies as a reason to be concerned, let’s keep things in perspective. The Nationals were the only team to sweep their first three games, which some may see as an example of their dominance, let’s all remember they opened against the Miami Marlins. Even the Houston Astros kept a sweep from happening this week.
I think the Atlanta Braves came out flying their colors this week and gave a good preview of things to come. The NL East still isn’t a lock, though it will be a fight to the finish yet again this season. Mike Minor and Julio Teheran still have yet to make their debuts, and both will likely be strong.
I’d love to see the Atlanta Braves offense put more runners on base to show off the speed of this team, as well as to show they don’t need to rely on the long ball. Sure, it’s fun to watch, but so is a bases-clearing double that flashes speed and power in one play. And the next turn through the rotation will be a different look than this first one, I’m sure.
All in all, this was an entertaining week for Atlanta Braves fans. Get used to it, this is just the beginning.