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8 Silver Linings Through Braves' First 10 Games

Drew WhaleyContributor IApril 11, 2011

8 Silver Linings Through Braves' First 10 Games

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    The Braves enter their mid-week series with division rival Florida Marlins 4-6, a record that most in the baseball world would call a mild fiasco for a team that garnered such praise out of March.

    After putting together a strong opening series in Washington, the Braves have gone on to lose five out of the last seven games in series against the Brewers and Phillies.

    Does this early-season skid foretell of another long summer in A-Town? People are already wanting Fredi Gonzalez out, Terry Pendleton brought back as hitting coach, and Freddie Freeman sent to AAA.

    Ah, Braves fans.... you never fail to show the world why patience and dignity are never found without the other.

    There are some definite signs that show the Braves are not going to revert back to being a team that bobbles below and above .500 in 2011, but that they actually have the makings of a National League powerhouse.

    Here are 10 positives the team has shown through the first 10 games of the season.

Chipper Jones

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    Braves fans everywhere now understand why Chipper decided to come back from a potential career-ending knee injury.

    Since Spring Training, Chipper has been ruining balls at a higher rate than human growth hormone. Though he'll likely only get about 500 at bats this year, Chipper is swinging the bat as good if not better than 2009, where he took home the batting title.

    We were all skeptical about Chipper's return, asking ourselves if he would really be worth the $14M on his contract for the year. If he can keep himself healthy come October, I think he will be well worth that.

    Chipper is really the key cog in the Atlanta lineup, as his presence takes pressure off of Brian McCann and adds a meaty OBP to the top of the lineup. If Chipper had been healthy last October, who knows what would have happened against the Giants!

    Atlantians will boisterously encourage Chipper to "TAKE IT EASY" running to first on a groundout this season, while on the flipside we'll scream "HUSTLE!!!" after he rips one in the gap.

    This could be the story of the 2011 season for Chip. Chipper has been the catalyst in a relatively dormant Atlanta lineup so far, so there is no reason to assume he won't get cold when other people begin hitting.

Craig Kimbrel

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    Craig "K" has been so good in the major leagues it is almost sickening. This young man absolutely blows people away with his heater, then makes hitters dance with his world-class slider.

    I seriously fear everytime a hitter squares to bunt off of Kimbrel that the bat may literally explode. The only thing Craig has not yet adopted yet is a menacing closer nickname, which I'm sure the fans will install before the end of the year.

    Kimbrel will obviously not remain perfect throughout the entire season, but it is not out of the question to say he won't finish with a reasonable amount of saves and a respectable ERA.

    He and Jonny Venters are both capable of handling the ninth-inning role, but Kimbrel may have locked the role down with his early dominance. Kimbrel gives Fredi Gonzalez confidence that the team can lock down victories.

Martin Prado

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    Martin Prado should be hitting about .450 right now it seems, but he's stuck at a measly .279 through Sunday's game. He was that guy in 2010 that never seemed to hit any rough patches offensively, and was arguably the biggest injury-loss the Braves endured down the stretch.

    Prado can seemingly do anything on the baseball field, with the exception of keeping his replica Barry Bonds necklace inside his shirt.

    Whenever the Braves have had a major offensive outpour, Martin has seemingly been right in the middle of it. His ability to hit the ball where it's pitched has made him such a great offensive player for the Braves. he sprays the ball to all fields with power, and it's a treat to watch him seemingly think the ball to right field with men in scoring position.

    This ability Prado possesses is going to be very valuable for Atlanta this year, as the talented bats in the bottom of the lineup may cause him to come up with men in scoring position more than a normal leadoff man. 

    Prado has also taken to left field almost effortlessly, answering a major question for the Braves coming into the season. He might just even win a gold glove, as his manager suggested back in March.

    Now wouldn't that be swell. Even if he doesn't, Prado has tried to prove he's no one year wonder at the plate, and many people are starting to believe in him. 

Brandon Beachy

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    All you have to do is read this kid's post-game interviews to understand he's no fluke. He puts all blame on himself for losses, puts all pressure on himself to win, and in some superhuman freaky kind of way, that seems to propel him to success.

    He seems like the kind of guy that feeds off of the pressure. You know, like exactly the kind of pitcher Brad Lidge ISN'T?

    This guy has the potential to be in a major league rotation for a long time. Why do I say this? One major thing separates Brandon from other young pitchers who have fumbled their chances in Atlanta: he is a pitcher who pitches in a league full of pitchers who throw. No, he is in not in any way a reincarnated James Parr or Chuck James.  

    Remember, above all else, pitching is an art. All the master pitchers in the game learn this sooner or later, and our boy here has stuck to that formula since he signed. 

    Beachy reminds me a little bit of Greg Maddux and a little bit of Javier Vasquez. Once he learns something other than a straight fastball, he's going to be pretty darn good.

    Brandon has pitches two solid games for the Braves in the first few games of the season, but he's still looking for that first win of his career. Beachy pitching at the back end of the rotation against the AAAA pitchers is going to help him out in the win column down the stretch this season.

    He had to stare at a big 0-2 all winter, and now he has a big 0-1 next to his 2011 stats. Let's start praying Brandon gets to pitch against Chris Young when we play the Mets this weekend and we can get that out of the way. Don't you think the two of them kind of look like twins? 

Team Defense

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    The Braves' defense has shown remarkable improvement from 2010, where they were ahead of only the annual cellar-dwellers defensively. Annual highlight reel plays (ones that do not star Yunel Escobar) have become almost a new fad in Atlanta.

    Braves fans were all shocked when Dan Uggla actually picked up a ball and threw it to first, after an offseason where scouts whined about how his defense would bog down the team.

    Most of us thought Frank Wren had added a Brooks Conrad-like glove with an Eric Hinske-like body at second. Given a full season, Uggla may pile his share of errors, but he's been clutch with the glove so far... even if the bat is still dormant.

    Freddie Freeman is going to save Atlanta a ton of games at first with his glove. Even though he's not hitting yet, he is batting in runs with his almost painful-to-watch flexibility at first, and his awesome hands over there.

    Alex Gonzalez has also had a great time with the glove, and Nate McLouth has shown improvement. But it is the vast defensive improvement as a team that has the Braves thinking their glovework can be a strength this year.

Derek Lowe

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Derek Lowe's new gameplan has really turned his career around. Lowe was an aging veteran who was nearly traded from a winning ballclup after 2009, but has now been one of the major's best pitchers since last September.

    Lowe has two losses in his first three starts but owns a 1.45 ERA, which is tops on the team for starters. Dating back to the All-Star break last season, Lowe owns the best ERA is baseball. If you would have told me that in April of 2010, I probably would have mistaken you for Brian Jordan.

    Derek adopted a new sinker grip mid-season in 2010, and it has worked for him. His slider has also seen new life, and his control has been much improved from previous seasons.

    Lowe is almost a lock for 34 starts and 190 innings pitched, so it would be much appreciated in Atlanta if Lowe could make sure Atlanta is within striking distance each inning he pitches.  

     

Nate McLouth

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    You can argue all you want, but Nate McLouth has definitely improved his approach to hitting from 2010. The average shows it slightly, and pitches to hit will come more often when the rest of the lineup begins to heat up.

    It's hard to get much worse than a .190 batting average, which will likely go down in Braves lore as one of the worst seasons ever, but Nate has shortened his swing and even taken the ball to the opposite field on occasion.

    It might take a Jose Bautista-type of year for the Braves to pick up that $10M option for 2012, but it's not out of the question to think Nate may want to prove he can play under the bright lights of a large-market team.

    The major question people have been asking is this: does Nate really need to be hitting at the top of the lineup? To answer, it is not something Bobby Cox would likely do, no, but speed is something Fredi Gonzalez values very much at the top of the lineup.

    Gonzalez is adamant about hitting McLouth second, and that is where he will have the chance to return to his 2008 numbers this summer. I originally predicted Nate McLouth to hit C.C Sabathia's weight this season, but after hearing that he had shed 40 pounds this offseason, I switched to Bartolo Colon.

The Hometown Heroes

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    Braves fans packed the Ted for the opening home series against the Phillies. This was great for the Braves players, as they got to see how excited and anxious the fans were about their team this season. If this series was any indication of how the fans are going to follow their team in 2011, it should be another electric season at Turner Field!

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