My girlfriend has one sexy brain. Not in the Hannibal-the-cannibal-I’ve-seen-it-in-person kind of way, but the smarts for days kind of way. So, when I introduced her to the game of baseball, all I had to do was talk about numbers. No pink jerseys, no checking out dudes in baseball pants, just numbers.
Now that we’re close to finishing up the month of April, we’ve got enough games that I’m gonna get numerical on y’all. Go on, get out your pencils and protractors, let’s talk numbers! My girlfriend will approve.
First off, the Atlanta Braves have played 24 games and their record is 17-7, good for second best in baseball, behind the (almost) unstoppable Milwaukee Brewers. That’s 10 games over .500 and 3.5 games over the second place New York Mets. I’m sorry, did I say Mets? Yes, I did. That record is also two games better than the Braves were at this point last year, even with their early 10-game streak. Their series record is 7-1-0, with two sweeps under their belts. Against their fellow NL East opponents, they are 12-6. And their home and away records are almost identical.
Goodness. If anyone predicted this in March, I hope you put money on it.
But here’s something interesting, considering those numbers. The Atlanta Braves’ run differential is +31, good for third in all of baseball. However, they’re one of three top 10 teams with less than 100 runs. Of those three, they’re third. In fact, only two teams in the majors have scored fewer runs than the Braves, at 89 — the Cubs and Astros.
Which leads me to what is truly amazing. How does a team score so few runs over the course of 24 games and still win at a 70 percent clip? Excellent pitching. And the Atlanta Braves have more than they know what to do with.
I’d be remiss not to start with Aaron Harang. Why, you ask? Well, the guy has a career ERA over four throughout his 12-year run. Now, over the course of five games, he’s given up three earned runs and has 0.85 ERA. Less than one. He’s arguably the best pitcher in the game right now! Did he train along side Ivan Drago and the Russians this offseason? Has he been replaced with a robot? Who is this guy?!
But hang on! Four of the top 10 ERA leaders in the National League are in the Atlanta Braves’ starting rotation! Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Ervin Santana may not have robot numbers, but they’re no slouches either. What I’m saying is four of five Atlanta starters have an ERA under two. And, if you add in the bullpen, the team ERA is 2.04.
I mentioned history, and I’m going to deliver. Here you go: The combined starter ERA of 1.57 is tied for the second best through 24 games since the White Sox put up a 1.36 mark … in 1914! The Phillies also had a 1.57 start in 1915. We’re talking almost 100 years since a starting staff put up numbers this good.
While we’re on the topic of history, let me add another one for the ages. As Wood and Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez get set to duel again tonight, let’s not forget that their last bout was one for the history books. Both teams combined to toss 28 strikeouts while giving up no walks over nine innings — the first time that has been done since 1914. Another 100 year mark! Wood accounted for 11 of those strikeouts, but gave up one run, which ended up being the difference maker.
Bear in mind, all of this historic pitching has been done without Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and new acquisition Gavin Floyd. Minor should make his first start in the next week, and Floyd won’t be far behind. Which begs the question, where do you put them? Even the “worst” starter, David Hale, has a 2.31 ERA. He’s the youngest of the staff, so he’s the likely choice to go to the minors or the bullpen to make room for Minor. It could be seen as unfair, but considering the prognosis in March, Frank Wren would call this a good problem to have. Floyd is the odd man out, given that he is unproven to this team and is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Obviously, the Atlanta Braves would like to see more run production out of what should be a pretty potent offense. Freddie Freeman got over his short 0-10 slump, and Justin Upton has been having another great April. B.J. Upton’s average has been .200 or better for almost two weeks, which, for Braves fans, is saying something.
The pieces are there. The Braves are finding ways to win. They’ve been at the top of the NL East since April 12 and look to hold on to it. Tonight’s rematch of young stars has a good chance to continue the Braves’ historic start to 2014.
Sharpen your tomahawks, Atlanta Braves fans.