Atlanta Braves' Biggest Winners and Losers for the Month of April
The first month of the 2014 MLB season is just about to wrap up.
For the Atlanta Braves (17-7), it's the second season in a row they've jumped out to an early-season lead in the division thanks to a hot April. The Braves hold a 3.5-game lead over the New York Mets, which is the same as their lead over the Washington Nationals this time a year ago.
There's not a whole lot for Braves fans to complain about with this team right now.
We have seen some poor individual performances to begin the season, but the results have still been positive from the team's standpoint.
With that said, let's take a look back at the first month of the season and highlight the team's winners and losers.
Winner: Justin Upton
While Justin Upton won't reach the 12 home runs he hit last April, the slugger has undoubtedly been one of the Braves' top hitters.
Upton leads the team with seven home runs and .625 slugging percentage and ranks second in RBI (16), batting average (.330) and OPS (1.031).
Those seven home runs put him in a tie for second in the National League, while his slugging and OPS puts him in the top five.
That's a very good first month for the 26-year-old.
We know Upton can be a streaky player, but he has had a nice approach at the plate for most of April.
His continued success will help the Braves offense flourish.
Loser: Jason Heyward
Jason Heyward has historically been a slow starter, and this season has been no different.
Heyward has managed to compile just a .191 average and .277 slugging percentage. His four extra-base hits (two doubles, two home runs) are tied for last on the team among starters. His 23.4 strikeout percentage is also way up from a year ago (16.6).
The good news for Heyward is that he is tied for the team lead with four stolen bases and his 1.3 WAR rating is tied with Justin Upton for the best among Braves hitters.
As I mentioned earlier, Heyward is a slow starter, so look for him to find a groove at the plate in the near future.
However, he undoubtedly had an overall disappointing first month of the 2014 season.
Winner: Freddie Freeman
Freddie Freeman looks to be one of the favorites to win National League MVP one month into the season.
Freeman is making the Braves look smart for locking him up long-term this offseason, as he leads the team in RBI (17), average (.344), OBP (.421) and OPS (1.033).
The 24-year-old ranks near the top of the National League in all major offensive categories and sits in the top five in OBP, slugging (.613) and OPS.
He has looked dialed in at the plate all season, as noted by his 31.6 line-drive percentage, according to FanGraphs.
Freeman is quickly making his mark as one of the top first basemen in the National League.
This has the chance to be a special season for Freeman.
Loser: Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson was arguably the surprise of the 2013 season as he posted a .321 average in his first season with the team. It was reasonable to expect a decline in 2014 for the .287 career hitter.
However, the drop-off in April has been more significant than he and Braves fans would like to see.
Johnson has compiled just a .241 average with four RBI, and his .272 OBP ranks second to last among the Braves starters.
This past week was especially brutal for Johnson as he recorded just two hits in 19 at-bats. This dropped his batting average 38 points.
Johnson should be fine, but April was not kind to the 29-year-old.
Winner: Frank Wren
Two key moves made by general manager Frank Wren late this offseason have paid huge dividends for the Braves.
After Kris Medlen went down for the season, Wren signed Ervin Santana to a one-year deal. In four starts, Santana is 3-0 with a 1.95 ERA and 0.98 WHIP.
Wren's other key move was releasing Freddy Garcia and choosing to sign Aaron Harang instead. All Harang has done is post a 3-1 record with a 0.88 WHIP and an MLB-leading 0.85 ERA.
I'm sure Wren would be the first to tell you he didn't envision Harang having that kind of success, but he deserves credit for going with Harang over Garcia.
These two moves have helped the Braves cope with the losses to their starting rotation in Medlen, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy and Gavin Floyd.
Wren has been criticized for his signings of free-agent hitters, but he pulled two great free-agent pitching signings.
Loser: Gus Schlosser
Gus Schlosser looked to be in position to help the Braves bullpen out after a successful spring training.
However, that successful spring training has not translated into the season. In seven games, Schlosser has compiled a 5.59 ERA and hasn't pitched since April 20 when he got the loss against the New York Mets.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez gave him opportunities at the beginning of the season to pitch in meaningful situations. Now, it appears Gonzalez has lost trust in Schlosser.
With Mike Minor set to return from injury, I'd expect the Braves to send Schlosser to the minors and move David Hale to the bullpen.
Winner: Julio Teheran
Julio Teheran is building off his first full season in 2013 and starting to look like one of the National League's best pitchers.
Here's a look at just how good he's been, per MLB.com's Mark Bowman:
Clayton Kershaw and Jose Fernandez are the only pitchers who have produced a better ERA than Teheran (2.58) over the past calendar year— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) April 27, 2014
Teheran's latest gem came on Sunday when he held the Cincinnati Reds scoreless through eight innings of three-hit baseball.
For the season, the 23-year-old is 2-1 with a 1.47 ERA while opponents are hitting just .207 off him. That's good enough to put him in the top 10 in the National League in both ERA and WHIP.
As Teheran continues to develop, he looks more and more like a frontline starter the Braves have been lacking in recent seasons.
Loser: Luis Avilan
Luis Avilan has pitched better in recent outings, but one outing will make his April month one to forget.
That rough outing came on April 14 in which he allowed the Philadelphia Phillies to score five runs and blow a four-run lead.
Avilan actually notched a win that night as the Braves made a ninth-inning rally to escape.
However, this has still hurt his April numbers, as he's posted an 8.10 ERA and allowed opponents to hit .367 off him. Both are worst on the Braves team.
The good news is that Avilan has pitched four consecutive scoreless outings and only allowed one baserunner combined.
Still, the worst ERA and opponent batting average is good enough to make Avilan a loser for the month in a bullpen with high expectations.
Winner: Alex Wood
I thought about making Alex Wood a loser based on his lack of run support in his starts, which has led to a 2-3 record.
However, he has pitched too well and will see some wins if he continues to pitch as he has the first month.
In five starts, Wood has posted a 1.54 ERA and 0.97 WHIP— both good enough for top 12 in the National League.
Wood's last two outings (both losses) have arguably been his best of the season, as he's totaled 16 innings, two earned runs and 18 strikeouts.
Wood was outdueled by Miami Marlins sensation Jose Fernandez in his last start, and the two will go head-to-head again on Tuesday night.
Despite the unlucky record, Wood has been a winner this April and cemented himself in the Braves rotation for the foreseeable future.
Loser: Washington Nationals
Obviously this is not an individual from the Braves, but it is a team directly involved by the Braves' hot start.
The Washington Nationals watched the Braves get off to a sizzling start in 2013 and never recovered to challenge the Braves for the NL East.
Once again, the Nationals entered 2014 as favorites or the top threat to challenge the Braves in 2014. And once again, the Nationals sit four games back of the Braves as we near the end of the first month.
At this point it seems like the Braves have the Nationals' number, as they are 5-1 against them already this season after dominating the series a year ago.
This first month was a huge opportunity for the Nationals with all the injuries to the Braves starting rotation.
This has to make them feel like losers after the first month of the season.