• Exclusives

    Braves Hot Start … How Much of It Is Real?

    The 4-2 Atlanta Braves enter week-2 of the season in the thick of a pennant race with the division rival New York Mets and Washington Nationals! They trail the Mets by 1 game, and enjoy a 1/2 game lead over the Nationals in the NL Wild Card race. The Braves are also putting on an offensive clinic, leading all of Major League Baseball with 8 runs per game.

    Okay, sure, as our great BravesWire scribe Bud Ellis noted the other day, it’s only been one week. (He also broke down quite nicely the reasons why the team is off to this hot start.)

    If the record were reversed; if the Braves were 2-4 right now, some fans would endlessly rant “here we go again! On our way to another 90-loss season!”  Heck, some fans said that to me when the Braves were trailing in the middle innings of Opening Day! (lol) That kind of sky-is-falling-ism this early would be absurd, just as it would be ludicrous to assume a hot start means we’re seeing the reincarnation of the ’91 “Miracle Braves.”

    If you’re judging this team based on 6 games, let’s get this out of the way right now. Here’s my advice, courtesy of the Channel 4 Action News Team:

    The fact that it’s only been one week means we’re not allowed to look at the standings, right? Well, good news! As I recently mentioned on Twitter, we put our top legal experts on the case and were unable to find any federal statutes prohibiting early season scoreboard watching. So enjoy it, Braves fans!

    Hopefully, you surmised that my use of the term “pennant race” at this early stage was tongue in cheek, but truth to be told, we have to enjoy it now. We don’t know how long it will last. The Braves’ bats could freeze up along with their hindquarters on a brutal April road trip, which starts Friday on the frozen tundra of Coors Field, and winds through Washington before ending in Chicago. By the way, the forecast for this Colorado series is, well …

    We don’t know how long Atlanta’s parity in the standings with the Nats, and other teams with more accomplished rosters, will endure. Chances are, not long. But this can be a good season for the Bravos. It can be very good, when weighed against their last 3 dismal seasons.

    So just how much of what we’ve seen thus far is actually sustainable? To put it another way, how much of it is “fool’s gold?” We’ll answer that question … with more questions!

    TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE:

    • Can “Kakes” rake? Will Nick Markakis hit .320 with a .934 OPS all year long? No way. Probably not even all month long. I think the Braves will be happy if there’s no decline from last year’s numbers.
    • Is Freddie Human? Yes and no. Freddie Freeman’s no mere mortal. He may just turn in an MVP-caliber season. That said, he won’t hit .421 with a 1.515 OPS all year.
    • Is Flaherty emerging as the total package? Look, Ryan Flaherty’s swinging a very hot bat right now. That’s likely all there is to it. His current AVG, .435, is nearly double his career AVG of .220.

      Braves OF Preston Tucker

      Braves OF Preston Tucker

    • Can Tucker keep it up? Not like this, no. Preston Tucker can hit, but a .429 AVG with a 1.264 OPS? This won’t last long. Upon Acuna’s arrival, barring an injury in the outfield, Tucker will serve as a valuable lefty bat off the bench.
    • Is Dansby turning the corner? Maybe. Hopefully. There is reason to hope. Swanson’s handling outside pitches much better thus far than he did last year. But even if he is coming into his own, he’s not likely to maintain his .318 average (or anything close to it) all year long.
    • Lights out bullpen? I’m on the record saying I think this ‘pen as a chance to be a strength for this team. However, Atlanta’s bullpen has surrendered only 5 ER in 29 innings of work thus far (plus a couple of inherited runners). That’s not sustainable.

    TOO BAD TO BE TRUE:

    While there are some great things happening that clearly are not sustainable, the opposite is also true. There are bad things happening that won’t stay this bad for long.

    • Will the real table setters please stand up? Ender Inciarte and Ozzie Albies are hitting combined .200 thus far at the top of the lineup. Think that’ll last? Me neither. The Braves will likely get a combined AVG in the high 200′s and an OBP in the mid 300′s from the pair this year.
    • Where’s the offense from behind the plate? Braves catchers Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki combined last year to belt 31 HR with 99 RBI. So far this year, with both Flowers and Suzuki hurt, Atlanta catchers have hit .211 with zero extra-base hits. So … yeah, those numbers will improve.

      RHP Julio Teheran is off to a rough start after a disappointing 2017 season

      RHP Julio Teheran is off to a rough start after a disappointing 2017 season

    • Is Julio Teheran really this bad? Teheran actually pitched better on Opening Day than the numbers would suggest. His second start, however, was every bit as bad as it looked in the box score. Maybe he shakes it off and regains at least some of the form that made him a 2x all-star. Maybe not. Either way, he will NOT stick in this rotation with an ERA north of 10.00. He’s better than that, and if he isn’t, he’ll soon be replaced by one of a number of talented young arms waiting for their shot.
    • Is Sean Newcomb’s stock still high? Yes. His first outing of the year went poorly (4.1 inn, 5 ER). It happens. It was just the 20th start of his fledgling big league career. Last season, he struck out 114 batters in 104 innings. The stuff is there. The Braves will give him more time to figure out how to command it, just as they should. But Newcomb is already much better than he showed in his first start.

    SUSTAINABLE!!

    At least a couple of the things we’ve seen this past week may not be too hot or too cold, but juuuust right.

    • Is Folty an emerging ace? Could be. Tyler Flowers said year ago that Mike Foltynewicz had the best stuff of anyone he had ever caught. Few have ever disputed that Folty has the stuff to become an ace. He’s had nearly 400 big league innings now to figure out how to put it all together. Perhaps he has. There’s still room for improvement. Certainly he could operate more efficiently than he did in his first 2 starts of the year. But 15 K’s and 3 ER over 10.1 innings so far (2.61 ERA)? We’ll take it.
    • Brandon McCarthy a stabilizing force in this rotation? That’s exactly what he was brought here to be. He didn’t have his best stuff in his first start of the year on Saturday. He allowed 6 hits, 3 BB through 5 innings, but he surrendered just 2 ER, kept the ball in the ballpark and struck out 5 hitters. He’s expected to be a solid middle-of-rotation starter and a veteran leader. So far, so good.
    RHP Mike Foltynewicz after ripping a double on a Max Scherzer breaking ball Wednesday

    RHP Mike Foltynewicz after ripping a double on a Max Scherzer breaking ball Wednesday

    BOTTOM LINE …

    Some of the red hot performers will inevitably cool off. On the other hand, others will pick up the pace. And while the Braves expect more offense from the top of the lineup and from behind the plate, Johan Camargo should be back in uniform soon. Not long thereafter, they’ll be adding young Mr. Ronald Acuna Jr to the mix. So some of the inevitable dropoff will be mitigated by gains in other areas.

    I also want to reiterate that while I listed the bullpen’s run prevention as “too good to be true,” I do think this bullpen will be solid.

    Don’t get me wrong, on balance, the Braves are overachieving. This team won’t lead MLB in runs scored at the end of April, let alone at the end of the season. This offense could, however, be better than many expected. The same could hold true for the pitching. Luis Gohara will join the rotation soon, and other reinforcements wait in the wings.

    With all this young talent, I predict 2018 is going to be a long, intense roller coaster ride for Braves fans, full of both excitement and frustration. If you go into the remaining 156 games expecting exactly that, you just might enjoy what promises to be a fun season!

    Let me know what you think. Chirp me up on Twitter: @FriedbasballATL

    Kent Covington is a national radio news reporter and BravesWire Editor.