5 Ways Atlanta Braves Have Already Improved This Season

Daniel Kock@@dannykockContributor IIIMay 11, 2015

5 Ways Atlanta Braves Have Already Improved This Season

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    While the Atlanta Braves got off to a sizzling 5-0 start, they have since cooled and now sit under .500 at 14-17. It's been disappointing for the Braves to have fallen under .500 so quickly after that great start.

    However, this is about what we expected in 2015.

    While the record may not show it, there are signs of the Braves' improvement as a team. If not for some recent bullpen struggles, that record would be significantly better.

    With that said, here's a look at five ways the Braves have already shown improvement during the 2015 season.

1. Scoring Runs

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    Considering their offensive numbers, you'd expect the Braves to be winning more frequently.

    In the month of May, the Braves have failed to score four or more runs just twice. In their last 10 games in April, that number was five.

    While manager Fredi Gonzalez has mixed and matched his lineup all season, he has found some consistency at the top of the order with Nick Markakis in the leadoff spot and Andrelton Simmons in the 2-hole.

    As an offense, the Braves have been solid, as they rank sixth in the National League in runs (137) and team average (.258) and third in on-base percentage (.324).

    The Braves have found some consistency in their lineup, which should help to put up more runs on a consistent basis.

2. Timely Hitting

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    The Braves have proven over their first 30 games that they can come through with timely hits.

    As a team, the Braves lead all of baseball with a .318 average with runners in scoring position.

    It's rather impressive that only four positional players (Simmons, Jonny Gomes, Christian Bethancourt and Phil Gosselin) don't have a batting average above .300 with runners in scoring position.

    The Braves put this on display over the weekend, as they trailed the Nationals 6-1 on Saturday and 3-0 on Sunday. Both times, the Braves managed to come back to tie it, and they even took a one-run lead Sunday before eventually dropping both contests.

    It's been a pleasant surprise to see how clutch this offense has been, especially in contrast to the 2014 Braves.

3. Outfield Consistency

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    Consistency at the top of the order has helped the offense, but the offense has also been helped by consistent outfield production.

    Gonzalez was struggling to get production from his center field and left field positions against right-handed pitching earlier in the season. Now, Cameron Maybin and Kelly Johnson have been providing it.

    Johnson seems to be rejuvenated being back in Atlanta, as he leads the team with six homers and ranks second with 17 RBI.

    While Maybin hasn't been spectacular (.239 average), he ranks third on the team with four homers and has compiled a decent OBP (.329). He's also come up with some key hits with a .375 average with runners in scoring position.

    The top-of-the-order consistency and solidifying of the outfield will combine to make the offense stronger as 2015 unfolds.

4. Folty over Cahill

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    The Braves took a low-risk chance by acquiring Trevor Cahill from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

    It is clear that the trade just won't work out.

    In three starts, Cahill was 0-3 with an abysmal 8.03 ERA and is now on mop-up duty in the bullpen.

    While Mike Foltynewicz hasn't been great by the numbers (5.23 ERA, .317 average, 1.84 WHIP), he has picked up two wins in both his starts. He also displayed his strikeout potential in his last start by striking out seven Phillies in just 5.1 innings of work.

    Foltynewicz has a high ceiling with his electric arm and offers much more upside in the starting rotation than Cahill.  

5. Shelby Miller Dominance

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    Shelby Miller continues to dominate every time he gets the ball. If he continues to pitch this effectively, the Braves will be extremely pleased with trading Jason Heyward for him this past offseason.

    Miller's latest gem was a complete-game, three-hit shutout of the Phillies. He struck out eight and needed just 99 pitches.

    For the season, Miller is 4-1 with a 1.66 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. He has held opponents to just a .178 average.

    For a pitching staff that has been extremely disappointing, Miller has been an obvious bright spot.