The Atlanta Braves have come out of the gates hot in the first week of the 2013 season, winning two out of three games against the NL East rival Philadelphia Phillies and sweeping the Chicago Cubs to start the season with a 5-1 record, tying the team with the Diamondbacks and the Rockies for the best record in Major League Baseball.
Although it all comes down to the numbers in the win/loss column, that does not mean we cannot look at the past six games and gauge this year’s edition of the Braves. Here’s a look at the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly for the Bravos thus far:
The Good: Hitting for Power. Just as most expected to come into the season, Atlanta’s scoring has come primarily via the long ball, which has the team ranked 4th in all of MLB with ten dingers through six games. The source of the majority of this power has been new acquisition Justin Upton, whose five homeruns through the first five games gave him the record for the most for any Atlanta player through the first five games of a season.
The Bad: Establishing a Replacement for McCann. Honestly, this is a great problem to have for the Braves because of the early success of both veteran Gerald Laird (.400 batting average with 4 hits and 1 RBI) and rookie Evan Gattis (.364 batting average with 4 hits, 1 RBI, and possibly the greatest first homerun ever).The initial plan looked like the team wanted Laird to play the majority of the games during Brian McCann’s absence (the six-time All-Star is due back to the team in about two weeks), but Gattis is definitely playing like a man that wants more playing time.
The Ugly: Avoiding the Dreaded “K”: While the team has had a lot of luck knocking the ball out of the park, it has not been able to avoid its fair share of swings and misses, as the team has ranked up forty-seven strikeouts, fifteen more than their adversaries that call Philadelphia and Chicago home. Nearly half of these strikeouts have been accounted to the aforementioned Upton (11 strikeouts in 22 at-bats) as well as his brother B.J. (9 strikeouts in 20 at-bats), proving that “all-or-nothing” did not just describe the Braves’ offseason spending spree.
Highlight of the Homestand: Saturday’s 6-5 Victory over the Cubs. In case you missed out on one of the best finishes in recent Braves history, the Braves found themselves down 5-1 going into the eighth inning when the team brought in three runs in the eighth via single from Freddie Freeman that brought Justin Upton home and a single by Ramiro Pena that brought in Dan Uggla and Freeman to close the gap to 5-4. The ninth saw the Super Smash Brothers go into action, as B.J. Upton homered to center (he had gone 0-for-16 with 9 strikeouts prior to that jack) to tie the game at 5 and Justin sent a shot to straightaway center to give Atlanta an exciting come-from-behind victory thanks to the siblings from Norfolk, Virginia.
Low Point of the Homestand: Thursday’s 2-0 Loss to the Phillies. To paraphrase Harry Doyle, “Two hits? That’s all they got, two hits?” The Braves struggled to do anything against Cliff Lee on this night, managing just a single by Dan Uggla in the bottom of the 2nd along with a single by Justin Upton in the bottom of the 4th against the 2008 Cy Young winner in a defeat that undoubtedly frustrated starter Kris Medlen. Unfortunately for Medlen and the other members of the pitching rotation, this offseason will have its fair share of games that mirror this loss.
What to Watch For Over the Next Two Series: Keep an eye on how the Braves’ pitchers handle Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins along with Bryce Harper of the Nationals. In Stanton’s case, handling the twenty-three year old should mean three wins for the road team; in Harper’s case, it will only help the Braves’ chances against a high-power Washington bats.
Stat of the Week: 17. Justin and B.J.’s homeruns in the 9th inning of Saturday’s game marked the first time in seventeen years that a pair of brothers homered in the same inning. The last time it happened was 1996, when Cal Ripken, Jr. and Billy Ripken both went yard for the Baltimore Orioles.