5 Biggest Takeaways from the First Month of Atlanta Braves' Season

Daniel Kock@@dannykockContributor IIIMay 6, 2014

5 Biggest Takeaways from the First Month of Atlanta Braves' Season

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    The Atlanta Braves encountered ups and downs over the first month of the season and have now seen their division lead disappear in the National League East.

    The Braves didn't finish the month how they'd hoped, as they were swept by both the Miami Marlins and San Francisco Giants.

    The current seven-game losing streak is the longest slide for the team since an eight-game skid in 2012.

    Despite the recent rough patch, the Braves will find their groove on offense again.

    As the Braves look to get back on track, let's take a look back at the first month of the 2014 MLB season. Here are five of the biggest takeaways from the first month of the Atlanta Braves.

Solid Starters

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    Dave Tulis/Associated Press

    Despite coming down to earth this past week, there's no doubt that the starting rotation of the Atlanta Braves carried the team over the first month.

    The Braves lead all of MLB with a 2.52 ERA from their starters.

    That's a pretty impressive feat considering the season-ending injuries to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy with last year's top pitcher Mike Minor making just one start in April.

    Gavin Floyd is set to make his season debut on Tuesday and should provide extra depth at the very least.

    Julio Teheran has been the leader of the staff to begin the season. The 23-year-old is 2-2 with a 1.80 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in seven starts. The Braves have to be pleased with his development in his second full season.

    Meanwhile, Alex Wood (3.00) looks poised for a breakout season, and Ervin Santana (2.41) and Aaron Harang (2.98) have been better than expected.

    For the second consecutive year, the starting rotation was a question mark entering the season before turning into a team strength.

Chink in the Armor

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    The Atlanta Braves have had arguably the top bullpen in the game for the past two seasons. While they haven't been awful to begin the season, they are not in the same form as the last couple seasons.

    As a team, the Braves have posted a 3.14 bullpen ERA, which ranks sixth in the National League.

    From players on last year's team, only Anthony Varvaro (2.53) and Jordan Walden (2.92) have posted better ERAs in April than their 2013 season.

    The most disappointing has been Luis Avilan, as he posted a 1.52 ERA in 2013 and started off 2014 with a 5.79 ERA. He will have an opportunity over the next few weeks with left-hander Ian Thomas being demoted to Triple-A Gwinnett.

    Even the game's best closer, Craig Kimbrel, had a few shaky outings (one blown save, 2.38 ERA) before recently pitching better.

    Manager Fredi Gonzalez still has a good bullpen to work with, but it doesn't appear to be as dominant as in years past.

Peaks and Valleys

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    We knew the Braves, and especially the offense, would be streaky.

    Focusing on the offense, the Braves can be as exciting as anyone in baseball as they belt towering home runs and are never out of a game. On the flip side, they can be as dreadful to watch as anyone when they strike out at a rapid pace and fail to put the ball in play.

    Expect this trend to continue throughout 2014.

    The Braves have gone on three different four-game winning streaks and are currently in a seven-game losing streak.

    The offense went a stretch of six games scoring at least four runs while posting six runs or more in four of those games.

    Meanwhile, in their seven games before Monday night, they scored a combined 11 runs and scored a single run in three straight games.

    It's tough on the fans to watch such a streaky team, but fans should get used to it, as it's the nature of this squad.

New Starting Lineup?

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    In the offseason, I predicted the Braves would trade Dan Uggla in order to promote Tommy La Stella to the starting lineup. As that did not happen, I still felt that La Stella would see significant time at second base at some point in 2014.

    Could this happen in the near future?

    MLB.com beat writer Mark Bowman indicates that the Braves could pull the trigger on promoting La Stella.

    The reasons are obvious as Uggla's batting average has dipped the past three seasons, strikeouts have increased the past three seasons and OBP dipped the past two seasons. This year has not been better, as he's posted a .190 average and .528 OPS.

    He's recorded just three hits in his last nine games. His last extra-base hit was a double on April 18 and his last home run came on April 14 in the thrilling win against the Philadelphia Phillies.

    Meanwhile, La Stella has a .313 average and .372 OBP in 27 games for Triple-A Gwinnett.

    The second base position is certainly worth monitoring over the next few weeks.

Promising Extensions

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    The Braves unloaded a ton of money on long-term extensions on young, promising players.

    In doing so, they were taking a gamble that these players (Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Andrelton Simmons, Julio Teheran) would continue developing.

    All these guys have looked to take the next step with the exception of Kimbrel. And Kimbrel has not looked back, but had no real step to take as he had established himself as the most dominant closer in baseball.

    Freeman had just four hits in his past 32 at-bats before Monday night's game but still has a .300 average, .892 OPS and 18 RBI.

    Simmons has been solid at the plate with a .279 average and striking out just six times in 104 at-bats. He's also still making highlight-reel plays on defense.

    Teheran has been the Braves' best starter and ranks in the top five in the MLB in ERA (1.80) and WHIP (0.88).

    After a couple of disappointing outings, Kimbrel has looked like himself in his past four appearances in which he's allowed just three baserunners while striking out eight.

    This core of young players is showing why the Braves committed so much money to them in the offseason.