1st-Quarter Grades for the Atlanta Braves
Mike Minor has looked like a staff ace, Justin Upton has seemed superhuman at times and Brian McCann has bounced back admirably.
However, not everything has been great in Braves Country.
Dan Uggla is off to yet another slow start, as are the newly acquired B.J. Upton and the injury-hampered Jason Heyward.
With the first quarter of the season coming to a close, how have the Braves shaken out?
As a whole, this Braves lineup has been very boom or bust, leading the bigs in home runs, but only ranking 21st in hits.
In reality, the Braves' offensive numbers are pretty middle-of-the-road.
The Atlanta order is 12th in runs, ninth in OPS, fourth in walks and second in strikeouts.
Essentially, as the offense goes, so do the Braves. When Atlanta scores seven or more runs, the team is undefeated, at 10 wins and no losses. When the Braves score two or fewer runs though, they sit with a lowly one win and 11 losses.
Many of the key cogs in the lineup have been off to slow starts, with Dan Uggla, B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward each owning a batting average below .200. When they come around, so too will the offense.
As a unit though, the Braves offense has been decent, and when the dust settles, the lineup should be closer to the top of the league in runs scored.
While Atlanta's starters certainly have the capacity to make their rotation a strength of the club, they are off to a pretty middling start, ranking 13th in the majors in ERA, 11th in WHIP and 14th in BAA (batting average against)
They eat innings though, piling up the eighth most innings in the league.
The staff ace, Kris Medlen, has struggled with control issues early on—a perplexing problem, considering he has almost walked as many hitters this year in 49.2 innings (20), as he did in 138 innings last season (23).
Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm have both pitched well in the first month and a half of the season, but a couple blemishes from each of them have inflated their respective ERAs.
After a rough start, Julio Teheran has started to turn things around, allowing just six runs in his last 19.1 innings.
Mike Minor has been a revelation though, proving that his 2012 second half was no fluke. His K/BB ratio is 42/10 and he has a 2.75 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP through 52.1 innings.
Like their counterpart, the lineup, the Atlanta rotation has been performing well but is ultimately underachieving and will definitely be looking forward to the return of Brandon Beachy.
With Jonny Venters ailing and Craig Kimbrel off to a rougher start than the club is used to (three blown saves in 14 opportunities and a 3.14 ERA), Atlanta's bullpen has not been as lights-out as it was in 2012.
However, it still ranks fourth in the majors in ERA, good for second in the National League.
Kimbrel's recent rough patch aside, the Atlanta bullpen has been pretty fantastic, with the names of Anthony Varvaro, Cory Gearrin, Luis Avilan and Eric O'Flaherty shutting the door on hitters in the latter innings.
Even Jordan Walden has been great, aside from his past three outings (1.1 innings pitched, five earned runs).
Everybody scuffles every now and then, but by and large, this unit of the Braves has been pretty great thus far.
Evan Gattis and Julio Teheran, Atlanta's two headlining rookies, have been making some major noise in Braves Country in the early goings.
Gattis went from a great story (found here, by AJC's David O'Brien) to a key cog in the machine that is the Braves. Gerald Laird was brought in to start during the temporary absence of Brian McCann, but Gattis ended up seizing the job and running with it.
After a .532 SLG and .829 OPS through Gattis' first 111 at-bats, Atlanta is finding a way to keep him in the lineup as often as it can.
Teheran had a terrific spring, but he came out of the gate with three poor starts. Growing pains were expected though, and he bounced back with three better outings—a combined 19.1 innings with six earned runs allowed.
The incredible major league debuts of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Shelby Miller have changed how young players are evaluated, but if these two are judged as they should be, then Atlanta's rookies have performed pretty well.
While general manager Frank Wren brought in more than two players last winter, Atlanta's offseason will be judged entirely by how the Upton brothers fare over the course of their contracts.
Aside from his last 1.1 innings, reliever Jordan Walden has been very solid in the bullpen, racking up 16 strikeouts against only four walks in 13 innings.
The other Jordan, this one of the Schafer surname, has played valiantly in the reserve role. In 56 at-bats, Schafer is getting on base at a .403 clip, collecting a healthy 11 walks and stealing six bags.
Chris Johnson, considered a throw-in in the Justin Upton trade, has more or less won the everyday third base job and is hitting .324 along the way.
Justin Upton could find himself starting on the National League All-Star team, as he has racked up 13 home runs and a 1.040 OPS in the first quarter of the season. More than half of his hits have gone for extra bases.
His brother, B.J., has been a disappointment thus far, but the Braves knew they were getting a streaky hitter when they paid him last winter. Sooner or later, the elder Upton should get going and remind Braves fans what they have to look forward to.
Sometimes the best acquisitions are the ones you don't make, and while Atlanta was able to land Justin Upton, the more impressive feat was that the team was able to do so without forfeiting shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
Simmons has been up and down offensively so far, but he is consistently lauded as the best shortstop in baseball, one who ESPN blogger Dave Schoenfield predicts will be a huge star (article found here).
After a blistering start, the Braves have come crashing back down to earth. They still own a game lead on the Nationals (as of 5/14), but their recent scuffle (five wins and seven losses in their last 12 games) has caused a sense of urgency, as expectations have become more realistic.
The performances of Mike Minor, Justin Upton and Brian McCann have been surprisingly excellent, while poor starts from B.J. Upton, Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward (albeit one hampered by injury) have been a little concerning.
Through the first quarter of the season, Atlanta has played well but has ultimately underachieved. Fortunately for the Braves, the Nationals have as well.
With time, that will be corrected. In any matter, the East is shaping up to be a dogfight.
First Quarter Team Grade: B
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