That could scarcely have gone worse. The Atlanta Braves have played three games, winning none. They’re alone among MLB clubs in being 0-for-2019. We stipulate in the most strenuous way that three games constitute a tiny sample size – 1/54th of a full season – but still: In three games that counted, the Braves were outscored 23-11.
Over a long weekend in Philly, the Braves lent a tinge of immediate credence – which isn’t to be confused with actual credence; that’s something that will be revealed only over the fullness of time – to the convenient offseason narrative. You know how it goes: The Braves had (mostly) sat by and watched other National League East teams, via big-ticket acquisitions, pass them. It didn’t help that Josh Donaldson, imported for $23 million, went 1-for-11 with four strikeouts as Bryce Harper, whom the Phillies bought for $330 million, smashed two emphatic home runs.
The cobbled-together starting rotation – two rookies plus Julio Teheran, last seen working in long relief in the final game of the NLDS – didn’t exactly seize the moment. Teheran yielded his usual first-inning run – a home run to leadoff man Andrew McCutchen, also new to the Phillies – and was gone after five innings. Bryse Wilson got 10 outs while yielding nine baserunners. Kyle Wright walked five in 4-1/3 innings. And those, comparatively speaking, were the highlights.
The Braves’ bullpen was awful. Shane Carle worked twice and has an ERA of 27.00 to show for it, plus an ejection for plunking Rhys Hoskins after Harper homered. (As we know, seeing Harper do anything good really irks the Braves. Usually, though, they just throw at him.) Luke Jackson, also deployed twice, has an ERA of 12.00. Through three games, the Braves’ relievers have the second-worst ERA in baseball. That they technically haven’t blown a save is the coldest of comforts: They haven’t had a save to blow.
If you’re looking to fault Alex Anthopoulos’ offseason, there’s the legitimate place to start. Neither Carle nor Jackson made the Braves’ playoff roster, yet here they were again. Granted, the spring ailments of Darren O’Day, on whom much relies, and A.J. Minter, haven’t helped matters. That said, Saturday’s loss was taken by Wes Parsons, a 26-year-old rookie summoned in the fourth inning of the season’s second game.
For all the talk about Craig Kimbrel, had he been on this roster he’d have done as much in Philadelphia as incumbent closer Arodys Vizcaino did, which is to say nothing at all. The Braves clearly don’t care to spend $70 million on a Brand Name who works only the ninth inning, and there’s justification in that. But with three starters – Mike Foltynewicz, Kevin Gausman and Mike Soroka – unavailable due to injury and March/April being a time when a starting pitcher rarely sees the seventh inning, the state of the Braves’ middle relief always figured to be a major issue. Sure enough …
Bright spots? Well, Freddie Freeman is leading the majors in hitting, and Dansby Swanson, coming off wrist surgery, hit a home run. But when you’re 0-3, there are no bright spots. The Braves didn’t give themselves a realistic chance to win in Philly, and they’re already three games behind the team that won the offseason. Here we insert the boilerplate caveat: The 2018 Mets started 11-1 and went 66-84 thereafter, finishing fourth in the East.
Nothing that happened over the weekend cannot be overridden with a good 10 days, and there’s no denying the Braves’ talent. Alas, not much of that talent lies in middle relief, which is an issue for Anthopoulos to ponder. Minter could return this week. O’Day, who’s making $9 million, worked only one inning in spring training and seems nowhere close to being activated. (“He’s just playing catch,” Brian Snitker said Sunday.)
A bit of perspective: The Yankees, Cubs, Indians and Nationals are 1-2; the Astros, Red Sox and Cardinals are 1-3. One weekend – or one week, or one month – does not a season make. Already, though, the 2019 Braves have already done something the 2018 team didn’t. Last year’s club didn’t spend a day below .500. These Braves haven’t spent a day above .500. They figure to get there, but they won’t do it pitching like this.
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