Stumbling out of the gate…
Before we even get started, let me just say this:
It could be worse… They could be the Detroit Tigers.
After all the off-season moves and pre-season predictions, I never thought I would be saying that. Here we are though, just over one week into the season and the Braves are 3-5 while the Tigers sit at a woefull 0-7.
Yes, the Atlanta Braves are off to a less-than-stellar start, but there are some bright spots. There are also some things that haven’t gone quite according to plan. Let’s take a look at both.
What’s going right:
Tom Glavine: Some critics, including ESPN’s Keith Law, thought that the Braves opting to bring in a 42-year old left-hander was not the right move. Law blasted the move in a call-in interview with a local Atlanta sports station. It’s not shocking that a baseball analyst would be drawn more to younger arms given the choice, but it was rather strange how vehemently he attacked the move as a complete waste of money. Tisk, Tisk.
Let’s just say that this Tom Glavine is looking more like the vintage Tom Glavine we remember than the one who allowed seven runs in a third of an inning in his final Mets outing. Two starts into the season, he has allowed just two runs and a holds a 0.79 ERA in the early going. I don’t think there is anyone who expects Glavine to recapture his Cy Young magic of ’91 or ’98, or duplicate his ’95 World Series Game 6 everytime out. However, if he can average about 6 innings every time out, it will put the Braves in position to easily win the majority of Glavine’s starts. (See: One run losses a little later)
Chipper Jones: There’s a rumor going around that Chipper Jones really knows how to hit. Ok, so it’s not a rumor – it’s a fact. He doesn’t just beat you with the long ball, Jones constantly works over pitchers and sprays base hits all over the ballpark. That is how you contend for a batting title. Jones has picked up right where he left off last season. Through eight games, he is 13-for-34 for a .382 average – good for the ninth best mark in the NL thus far.
What’s more? Jones drives in runs, lots of them. How about one a game? If a player can hold that ratio over the full season, then you would have a 162-RBI guy in your line-up. I’d take that. Realistically though, Jones driving in 100 runs in crucial to the Braves success. He’s off to a good start.
Mark Kotsay: He must have answered the question of how he planned to replace Andruw Jones all spring long, but Kotsay never presumed that he needed to “replace” Jones. Instead, he concentrated on getting ready for the season and doing the things he knows how to do. That’s been pretty evident in the first week.
Kotsay is a completely different kind of player. He has line-drive power and a shorter more compact swing that garners more contact. The guy just doesn’t strike out (only three times this season). He makes play after play in center, turning in a number of dazzling catches and showcasing the throwing arm that has gained him a reputation as one of the best throwing outfielders in the game today.
For those curious, here’s a look at Andruw and Kotsay in 2008:
Kotsay: .267 AVG | 1 HR | 3 RBI | .833 OPS | 3 SO
A. Jones: .103 AVG | 0 HR | 1 RBI | .325 OPS | 9 SO
It may not stay that way all season, but Kotsay has given the Braves a quality everyday player to plug into the line-up and in center field.
Beat the Mets, beat the Mets: Everyone loves a sing-a-long. As a matter of fact, the Braves were able to accomplish just that over the weekend. They stepped right up and swept the Mets in a rain-shortened two-game series. That’s enough of that tune for now.
Kelly Johnson returned in a big way after missing most of the week with a balky right knee, hitting a pinch-hit grand slam that punctuated the 11-5 win on Saturday afternoon. We saw the return of John Smoltz, who threw five scoreless innings to help Atlanta get the best of Mets ace Johan Santana. Even Mark Teixeira got into the action in support of Smoltz with a two-run homer and a sparkling defensive play to preserve Sunday’s win.
There’s no getting around the fact that the Braves will have to perform at a high level against both the Mets and Phillies in head-to-head match-ups this season. Having their way with the Nationals and Marlins would also go a long way toward putting ground between Atlanta and the rest of the division.
What’s gone wrong?
Mike Hampton: Not that this comes as a complete surprise to anyone, but Mike Hampton is hurt again. After the strong spring when he went 1-0 with a 2.16 ERA in five starts, there was hope that the veteran left-hander would be able to boost the Braves rotation this season. He still may, but the latest set-back is a strained left pectoral muscle.
The injury has put him on the 15-day disabled list for now, giving Chuck James a chance to reclaim his spot in the rotation. Still, the Braves are hoping that the return of Hampton could occur this season. I guess we’ll all just have to wait and see if he is able to overcome the two and a half year layoff.
Mark Teixeira: Yes, he has been known as a slow starter, but the Braves are going to need Teixeira’s bat to awaken from its slumber. Despite his stellar track-record, it would be a bit much to expect him to continue his pace from the final two months of 2007.
Most of his struggles have occured from the right side, where he is just 1-for-14 this season. The Braves have seen quite a few left-handed pitchers on the young season, but that is a trend that will change over the course of the season.
Keep in mind, Teixeira started the 2006 season off by hitting .275 with nine homers and 49 RBI before the All-Star break. All he did in the second half was explode to the tune of .291 average, 24 homers and 61 runs knocked home. It could be one of those years, or it could be too early to tell.
One run losses: When I said a little earlier that Glavine’s work thus far should have been enough to give the Braves victory, this was what I was referring to. Glavine’s first start, the wild 12-11 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the home opener, doesn’t exactly hit the nail on the head, but Monday’s start does. For six and a third innings, Glavine kept the Rockies scoreless. Matt Holliday then victimized Blaine Boyer for a two run blast that held up for a 2-1 Rockies win.
What was the real story in that loss? I contend that it was not a bullpen meltdown, but rather the fact that Aaron Cook and the Colorado bullpen was able to keep Atlanta off the board for the final eight innings. They did so by allowing just one hit over those frames. That makes it hard to string together any kind of rally.
This one run loss stuff goes back to opening day, when Ryan Zimmerman stung the Braves with a walk-off homer in a 3-2 opening day defeat. Either way, the Braves are going to have to find a way to get on the other side of these close games, or they may be looking back at these frustrating losses as the reason they are playing catch-up this season.
Till next time,