5 Biggest Takeaways for Atlanta Braves Following MLB Opening Week

Daniel Kock@@dannykockContributor IIIApril 14, 2015

5 Biggest Takeaways for Atlanta Braves Following MLB Opening Week

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    Kevin Liles/Associated Press

    The Atlanta Braves are one of baseball's biggest surprises as they've jumped out to a 6-1 start.

    While it's still very early, it is hard not to be impressed by the team's performance to date.

    The Braves have beaten up the Marlins and Mets, two teams that were hot picks to challenge the Washington Nationals in the division and earn wild card berths.

    They will be tested as they face a nine-game road trip against the Blue Jays, Mets and Phillies after their current home series with the Marlins.

    We'll see if the Braves can keep up their current hot pace, but let's take a look at what we do know about the 2015 Braves after the first week.

1. Bullpen Dominance

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    Joe Skipper/Associated Press

    The Braves exited spring training with what looked like a potential top bullpen—but that was with Craig Kimbrel.

    Once the Braves traded away the star closer, the Braves were relying on other pitchers to have rebound seasons along with some unknowns to step up.

    To this point, that has happened, as the bullpen has been spectacular.

    The Braves have the top bullpen in the National League, sporting a 0.74 ERA and having allowed just two earned runs.

    One of those was charged to Juan Jaime after he walked the first two batters he faced in the eighth inning of Sunday's loss to the Mets.

    He was promptly designated for assignment.

    That is the only blemish to this point, and it looks like the Braves will have a great bullpen in 2015.

    Hurlers such as Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson, Luis Avilan and Cody Martin have been outstanding thus far.

2. Contact Hitting

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    Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

    The Braves traded away a lot of strikeouts in the offseason in what looked to be a new focus on making contact at the plate.

    I think we can confidently say that will be a strong point in 2015.

    Through seven games, the Braves' offense ranks last in the National League in strikeouts.

    Newly acquired players Alberto Callaspo, Nick Markakis, Jace Peterson and Eric Young Jr. have arrived and put the ball into play.

    While the offense hasn't been dynamic, it has been effective.

    Fans can continue to expect this approach to last the entire 2015 season.

3. Mix and Match

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    Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

    The Braves' Opening Day lineup was so tough to predict this year because we knew there would be plenty of platoons and mixing and matching.

    Manager Fredi Gonzalez has yet to employ the same lineup for any of the seven games this season.

    The Braves have versatility with Eric Young Jr., Jace Peterson, Alberto Callaspo and Phil Gosselin having the capabilities to play multiple positions.

    Gonzalez has done a good job of getting Jonny Gomes and Kelly Johnson into the lineup with favorable matchups.

    He has also given a few starts to A.J. Pierzynski and Cameron Maybin, which has paid off.

    The Braves can set their lineup based more on matchups in 2015, so fans will never be quite certain of what the lineup may look like on a given night.

4. Aggressive Baserunning

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    The Braves also look like a team more willing to run in 2015.

    The Braves are tied for second in the National League with six stolen bases on the young season.

    In comparison, the 2014 Braves were a middle of the pack club, ranking seventh in the National League with 95 stolen bases.

    A few plays won't show up in the boxscore but have been critical in Braves' wins this season.

    Jace Peterson aggressively made it to third, which proved to be the key play in a 5-3 win over the Mets.

    Meanwhile, catcher Christian Bethancourt stole second, advanced to third on an error and scored on a wild pitch to score the Braves' first run in Monday's 3-1 win over the Marlins.

    Look for the Braves to continue to be aggressive on the basepaths in 2015.

5. Timely Hitting

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    This one is harder to predict over a 162-game season, but the Braves have been getting the timely hits so far that they couldn't muster last season.

    In 2014, the Braves finished 28th in the majors with a .236 average with runners in scoring position.

    This season, the Braves rank first in the National League with a .357 average with runners in scoring position.

    Nick Markakis is hitting just .231 for the season.

    However, he has been coming through with key hits as his .571 average with runners in scoring position would indicate.

    Hitting is contagious, and the Braves have been feeding off of each other when it comes to getting timely hits in 2015.