There goes April. Must it end already?
The Braves are 16-11 as they flip the calendar to the second full month of the season. People can’t wait. What does it mean that they’re this good this early? Some thoughts on five key subjects:
Let’s start with the fun numbers. The .593 winning percentage ranks as the fifth-best in the National League and eighth best in the majors. Their current record projects to 162-game record of 96-66.
(I know. It’s 27 games down with 145 to go. But isn’t the first 27 the hardest? Never mind.)
They have scored the second-most runs (151) in the majors and to the Yankees (163) and have a run-differential of plus-38, fifth in the majors to teams with four of the best records in baseball: Astros (19-10, plus-66), Red Sox (20-7, plus-59), Yankees (18-9, plus-47) and Diamondbacks (plus-39, 19-8). Run-differential has its flaws like every other statistic, but it’s generally a good indicator how a team is playing.
The Braves’ biggest early problems have stemmed from, no surprise, the bullpen: They are 1-5 in extra-inning games. They’re also 6-2 in blowouts (wins/losses by five or more runs). Success is being driven by the offense. Yes, it’s a fun team to watch. But depending on offense can be problematic.
The Braves’ 151 runs (5.59 per game) projects to a 162-game total of 906. The Atlanta franchise record is 907.
Remember: one month.
Ozzie Albies is an early MVP candidate. He has twice as many home runs (9) as the next closest Brave, also leads the team in RBIs (20), doubles (12), runs (29), hits (34) and slugging percentage (among qualifiers, .647). He’s hitting .293. Four other players in the lineup are hitting at least .300, Ender Inciarte (.276) has raised his average 97 points in the last two weeks after a slow start and Dansby Swanson (.287) has eased concerns about his future.
Here’s the thing about the lineup: If and when somebody slumps, it looks so deep right now that it should continue to produce runs, which in turn should prevent the Braves from going into any extended tailspin. All of this is giving general manager Alex Anthopoulos a better idea about what he has on the major league roster and what moves he can make with other pieces.
The Ronald Acuna Experience
He was moved up to second in the batting order Sunday in Philadelphia and promptly hit two doubles, walked twice and stole a base. Through five games, Acuna is hitting .421 (8-for-19) with a 1.289 OPS.
He has gone from too-good-to-be-true projections to absolute phenom, and when’s the last time we saw that in Atlanta?
Logic says Acuna is going to struggle at some point. I’m reasonably certain he won’t hit .400 all season. I think. But there’s too much talent and confidence to imagine him spiraling. For the first time in a long time, the Braves have a lock corner outfielder for the future.
Maybe it’s emotional scar tissue but I’m still waiting for the trapdoor to open.
The starting rotation has survived to this point, led by Mike Foltynewicz (2-1, 2.53) and Brandon McCarthy (4-0, 3.09). Foltynewicz still throws too many pitches (read: walks) but he strikes out a ton. McCarthy has stayed healthy, something he hadn’t done for three years. (Tick-tock?) That’s the good.
Julio Teheran has been inconsistent and was shelled in his last outing, Sean Newcomb is talented but young and is still figuring things out. The pitching staff’s overall ERA is 3.64 (solid). But 136 walks lead the majors (forecast: doom).
The bullpen has been a disaster. Not a surprise. The biggest problem – beyond the 73 walks – is that relievers have already thrown 105 innings, the fourth most in the league and seventh most in the majors. This bullpen is not good enough to support that work load. But the starting pitching isn’t good enough to go deep into games to prevent the workload.
This is a problem. This is, and will be, and should be, the focus of Anthopoulos moving forward. Some lumps are to be expected. But a great offense will get the Braves only so far. Success ultimately is still defined by pitching.
Everybody complains about him when the Braves are losing. Nobody talks about him when they’re winning. Ever notice that?
Snitker may forever seem to have “interim” stamped on his forehead but let’s give the man some credit. The players like him and have always played hard for him. That’s half the battle in sports.
Some of his in-game decisions can be questioned (it’s baseball). But he hasn’t been afraid to make changes when he deems them necessary, and presumably he has the power to do so. He moved Albies up to leadoff in the batting order Sunday, dropped Inciarte from leadoff to ninth and slid Acuna up to second (from fifth or sixth in his first four games). The result was 10 runs and 11 hits against Philadelphia, including nine extra-base hits (six doubles, a triple, two home runs).
He must be doing something right.
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