Atlanta Braves' Biggest Early-Season Surprises and Disappointments

Daniel KockContributor IIIApril 16, 2014

Atlanta Braves' Biggest Early-Season Surprises and Disappointments

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    David Goldman

    The Atlanta Braves are a streaky team, so naturally they will pull off a thrilling comeback (Monday night) while mixing in some clunkers (two shutout losses).

    To this point the Braves have been mostly up as they sport a 9-4 record and early division lead.

    We have seen some surprising and disappointing individual performances at this juncture.

    This list will comprise of players who have mildly or greatly exceeded or failed to meet expectations. Therefore, it will not necessarily look at who has had the best and worst seasons to this point. Rather, it deals with the player's expectations as we entered the 2014 season.

    With that said, let's take a look at the Braves' biggest early-season surprises and disappointments in the 2014 season.

Mild Disappointment: Jason Heyward

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    Todd Kirkland

    Jason Heyward has not been locked in at the plate to begin the season.

    He would be the first to admit that his .160 batting average and .300 slugging percentage are unacceptable numbers.

    However, there are some other factors that should be considered to show it hasn't been a major disappointment.

    Heyward has been forced into the leadoff spot, which is not a natural fit for him, and has little support behind him with B.J. Upton hitting second (.180 average). He has also managed to post a .311 on-base percentage (fourth on team among qualifiers) and is third on the team with seven runs scored.

    Considering all the factors, it's accurate to label Heyward's season a mild disappointment at this stage.

Mild Surprise: Freddie Freeman

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    Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images

    Meanwhile, there is not a player more locked in at the plate than Freddie Freeman.

    Fans and the organization expected a big season from Freeman coming off a fifth-place finish in the National League MVP in 2013, but the results have been staggering thus far.

    Among qualifiers, Freeman leads or is tied for the team lead in runs scored (12), home runs (4), RBI (10), average (.404) and OPS (1.236).

    Here's a tweet from Buster Olney entering Monday's game against the Philadelphia Phillies on just how good Freeman has been to start the year:

    ESPN Stats and Info's @jayhaykid reports: Freddie Freeman has swung at 58 pitches in the strike zone, and missed just three times.

    — Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) April 14, 2014

    Freeman looks sharp to begin the year and looks to be a factor in the MVP race for the 2014 season.

Moderate Disappointment: Gus Schlosser

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Gus Schlosser pitched his way onto the 25-man roster with his excellent spring training and even generated some talks about starting in the rotation.

    Now, Schlosser may be pitching his way back to the minors.

    Schlosser has allowed runs in four of his six appearances en route to a 7.50 ERA.

    His biggest disappointment was failing to hold an April 10 contest against the New York Mets in a 4-4 tie heading into the bottom of the seventh. Instead, he allowed the go-ahead run to score (not charged to him) and then gave up another in the following inning.

    Schlosser was not expected to be the main set-up man for Craig Kimbrel. However, he was expected to be a reliable middle-inning option for manager Fredi Gonzalez.

    With some pitchers returning to health in the near future, it's easy to wonder if Schlosser will be at the MLB level much longer.

Moderate Surprise: Andrelton Simmons

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Through 13 games, Andrelton Simmons is third on the team with a .341 average and .965 OPS.

    Simmons has displayed pop at the plate with five extra-base hits already (two home runs, two triples and one double). Only Freeman (8) and Justin Upton (6) have more, and it's worth noting that both Freeman and Upton have played in two more games than Simmons.

    While the power he's shown to this point is not necessarily his game, it is a welcoming sign that the defensive superstar continues to develop at the plate.

    Perhaps the most impressive stat for Simmons is that he has still yet to strike out this season. For a team that strikes out at an alarming rate, Simmons' ability to put the ball in play is a steadying influence.

    Look for Simmons to get serious looks at hitting second this season. 

Major Disappointment: Luis Avilan

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Luis Avilan entered the season as one of Craig Kimbrel's primary set-up men.

    The 24-year-old southpaw simply does not look like the pitcher who posted a 2.00 ERA and 1.52 ERA the past two seasons.

    Avilan gave up the majority of his earned runs in Monday night's eighth-inning debacle in which he allowed five earned runs to blow a four-run lead. That outing had a major effect on his current 13.50 ERA, which ranks last on the team.

    However, there's no denying that Avilan has been shaky his last four outings. He has allowed multiple baserunners in three of those four outings and gave up a run and got the loss in the other outing.

    The Braves need Avilan to be effective, as he's the only left-handed option with any experience on the current roster. He has not been a consistent set-up man so far this year, and the Braves will need that to get the ball to Kimbrel as the season goes on.

Major Surprise: Aaron Harang

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Aaron Harang was released by the Cleveland Indians before the season began.

    The Braves signed him just days before the 2014 Opening Day.

    The 35-year-old has pitched for six teams in the last five years and is coming off a season in which he posted a 5.40 ERA for the Seattle Mariners and New York Mets.

    So, of course, Harang currently sits third in the National League in starters' ERA (0.96) and fifth in WHIP (0.80).

    Harang may be the biggest surprise in the league, so it's an easy choice to say he's been the Braves' biggest surprise so far this year.

    Harang has pitched at least six innings and allowed one run or less in each of his three starts. He struck out nine batters against the Mets and took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in his first start of the year against the Milwaukee Brewers.

    I'm not sure how much longer this will last, but general manager Frank Wren deserves credit for making the surprising move to cut Freddy Garcia in order to sign Harang.