What can I say about the Atlanta Braves that hasn’t already been said about good southern barbeque? It’s greasy, spicy and comes with a whole slew of sides. And the day after you eat it, it comes back to let you know how good the party was.
Forgive me; spring has officially sprung here in Atlanta, and I got good southern eatin’ on my mind.
And the Atlanta Braves have made the most of April so far, smashing together an 8-1 record, which is the best in baseball. But it hasn’t been without its downsides. That is, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t just look at standings. And today is a good day to look at the pluses and minuses for this hot-streakin’ Atlanta Braves team. Why, do you ask?
Cue the trumpets! Play the montage!
Friday is the matchup that most of the baseball world has been waiting for. The Washington Nationals host the Atlanta Braves in our nation’s capital. This is Rocky vs. Drago, with Teen-Wolf Jayson Werth saying in a country twang “I must break you.” Or at least, that’s the way I picture it. The other rivalries in baseball haven’t really picked up any speed yet; the Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees more resembles Grumpy Old Men this season, but I’m sure it’ll be more interesting further down the road, when they all get out of the nursing home.
So, let’s look at things that have gone right and wrong this last week and how that affects this weekend series.
Legends of the longball
What is this mystical beast? What happens to a ball that goes over the fence and never comes back? I’ve heard Mr. Myrtle’s dog eats it and it’s gone forever! The Braves are third in the majors in home runs, which is not an experience I can ever remember as an Atlanta Braves fan. In fact, they’ve homered in every game but two. This is what Yankees fans must feel like with that Little League porch in right field. The downside is with that great power comes great … strikeout totals. And that’s apparently the number that will eventually sink the Atlanta Braves, according to the pundits. But as Dan Uggla said: “You can strike out 20 times. As long as you get a good outing from your pitcher and a three-run bomb, you win the game.” (Mark Bowman, MLB.com) While I appreciate his Brave-ado, I’d like to see a little more discipline at the plate.
Remember when I mentioned a slew of sides with your bbq? The Atlanta Braves bench is coleslaw, potato salad, collard greens and mac’n’cheese! Ramiro Pena hit two two-run singles in back-to-back games while filling in for Andrelton Simmons and his injured thumb. When Freddie Freeman was put on the 15-day DL with a strained oblique, both third base candidates, Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson, manned the corners and drove in three runs. Rookie backup catcher Evan Gattis has scorched into 2013, crushing three bombs and driving in six runs in 23 at-bats. Jordan Schafer had a night for the books on Wednesday, going 4-for-5 with a double and a stolen base. What all this means is the Atlanta Braves bench has proven it can answer the call to action when necessary and perform under pressure. ¡Arriba!
The running of the bull…pen
Since last Friday, the bullpen has tossed a total of 15.1 innings and given up one run. That spans 14 separate appearances and the entire bullpen is in on the action. That’s excellent news for the starting staff, which, while helping put together this 8-1 start to the season, hasn’t totally lived up to the hype. Kris Medlen, Tim Hudson and Julio Teheran all have had starts they might have done differently if they could. But between the bullpen and the offense, they don’t have to linger too much on the faults. Besides, none of those starts were terrible, and they should all see an upswing the next go-round.
Obviously, there are still concerns. The Braves can’t always rely on the longball to win games; I’d like to see some more situational hitting, less strikeouts and more steals. Though, if these games were in September, the pundits would say “whatever it takes.” What I know is the Braves missed taking the division by four games last year. And even though one could pull those four games from anywhere, they started the season 0-4, so an 8-1 start has me pretty pumped.
The Nationals are undefeated at home, which is a solid number, but I think anything can happen this weekend. Best case scenario, the Atlanta Braves continue their dominant start and prove to the baseball world they have a legitimate shot at taking the NL east. Worst case, the Nats exploit the weaknesses in the Atlanta Braves, which is ultimately positive this early in the year.
Either way, it’s going to be a great series.