Atlanta Braves: A Closer Look at the First Seven Games of the Season
We now have a week's worth of games to critique the 2011 Braves. While the team's record currently stands at 3-4, there are a good number of things to like so far, as well as some things to not like.
The team started off the season strong by taking two out of three against the Washington Nationals, including an impressive 11-2 win in the final bout between the squads.
They then traveled to Milwaukee and took the opening game of the four game series with a tough 2-1 win. Things went downhill from there though as they lost the final three games of the series.
Now we're going to take a look at some positives and negatives from the first seven games of the season.
Positive: Chipper Jones Stays Hot
After back-to-back down years for the future Hall of Famer, Chipper Jones got off to a great start to this season in Spring Training, hitting .387 while slugging .710.
The 38-year-old is hitting .320 through the Braves first seven games, having hit three doubles and knocking in three runs while doing so. He is also currently slugging .458 with an on-base percentage of .360.
Chipper has been saying for a few weeks that he feels as good a he's ever felt. So far you are making me believe you, Chipper.
The only negatives I can point out so far from his play is just a couple of plays at third where his reaction has slowed a little, but nothing to put off the great play he's been putting together so far.
If Chipper an keep up this great play, the rest of the offense should come along and make this one of the better lineups in all of baseball.
Negative: Tommy Hanson Gets off to a Slow Start
So far in 2011, Tommy Hanson has thrown nine innings and given up six earned runs. Nothing is going right for the 24-year-old so far this season.
Hanson has consistently missed his spots, having already walked three batters while allowing the Nationals and Brewers to combine to hit .333 off of him so far.
Hanson came into the season as the number two starter, and hasn't looked like it so far. As frustrating as he can be for me to watch, I know that as a young pitcher and being Hanson that he is going to have some very bad stretches mixed in with some really good ones.
Just hoping we see more of the latter as the season progresses.
Positive: Derek Lowe Keeps Up Great Pitching
Love him or hate him, Derek Lowe is a warrior on the mound. After being very pedestrian for the majority of 2010, Lowe put up a 5-0 record in September with the help of a 1.17. He's kept up the good pitching to start 2011.
In his first 11.2 innings pitched, Lowe has struck out 13 batters, walked five, and given up eight hits and one run, This leaves his current ERA at 0.77, not bad for a 14-year veteran.
Lowe seemed to have found his sinker again late in 2010, and it has been lethal for him so far in 2011. If he keeps moving at this pace, Lowe could end up being on the best pitchers in the National League this season.
Negative: Team Offense Has Been Lackluster
The Atlanta Braves currently have four guys hitting at least .250: Chipper Jones (.320), Brian McCann (.400), Jason Heyward (.250) and David Ross (.500). The rest of the team is off to a slow start.
Perhaps the lone positive to this start has been that the Braves have hit six homers, but that still is less than one homer a game.
The Braves offense has shown some flashes, and later on I will go in to more detail as to how it should improve going forward.
Positive: Dan Uggla Has so Far Been a Good Pickup
We all knew the stocky second baseman was going to hit for power, having already hit two bombs, but he has also played great defense and has been hitting pee-rods all over the field, even if they haven't always been falling.
Dan Uggla has made a couple of highlight worthy plays so far, including a diving catch over his back, and a nice backhand stab and throw to the plate earlier in the Brewers series.
While it is doubtful that Uggla will have another great average (.287 in 2010), he is on pace for 46 homers while playing better-than-expected defense. A 30-homer, 100-RBI season is looking very safe to predict as of right now.
Negative: Freddie Freeman off to a Slow Start at the Plate
The young man had the first baseman job basically handed to him this past offseason, but he is suffering from a slow start at the plate. Freddie Freeman is currently hitting .130 and has only driven in one run.
Fear not though, Freeman has hit at every level thus far and will continue to do so. Ending up somewhere in the .270 range is no anywhere out of the question.
Oh, and he has been spectacular defensively so far, showing that whenever he steps back onto the field whatever happened before is in the back of his mind. One pitch at a time Freeman.
Positive: Craig Kimbrel Has Had an Electric 33 Pitches
One of the problems for the 22-year-old throughout his professional career has been his tendency to walk people. Well, in two innings (I know, small sample size) not only has he not walked anyone, he hasn't given up a hit or hit a batter while striking out five of the six men he has faced.
Of his 33 pitches thrown so far in 2011, 21 of them have been strikes, or about 63 percent of the time.
Craig Kimbrel has a devastating fastball and slider combination. If he can consistently keep his percentage in that area, he may be the best closer in the National League by the All Star Break.
Reasons for Optimism and Outlook for the Next Week
The Braves team ERA in the first seven games of the season is an outstanding 2.47 and opponents are only hitting .232 so far. If Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, and Brandon Beachy can pitch like they have early on at all and Tommy Hanson turns it around, then the Braves will have one of the best rotations in baseball. Not to mention that Jair Jurrjens is currently out with an injury and Mike Minor is a better pitcher than what he showed in a start in his place.
The offense is also going to improve on .223 batting average and the runs will start coming at a high rate. They have thrived so far off of solo home runs (other than Jason Heyward's three-run dinger against the Brewers), but you add a runner or two in those situations and some more manufacturing of runs like in the second inning of the finale with the Brewers and you have a much improved offense over what we have seen in six of the first seven games.
The Braves now head back to Atlanta to host the Philadelphia Phillies over the weekend, a matchup that will give the victor an early advantage over what is expected to be a battle all season long for the NL East title. After finishing up with them on Sunday, the Braves will host a three game series with the Florida Marlins starting Tuesday. That will then be followed by a three-game series with the New York Mets.
The next week, while just one of many in the long season, is an important one in the division as that be nine straight games against their rivals. If the Braves can take six or seven of these games, the fans and team should be very happy.