• Exclusives

    Should you worry about Braves poor start?

    By Kent Covington

    3B Juan Fransisco hangs his head after his third of 3 errors Monday

    The optimism that permeated Braves Nation as the team broke camp a week ago has quickly turned to frustration. After suffering a 3-game sweep to open the season in Queens, game-4 of the year at Minute Maid Park in Houston got off to a promising start Monday night.  Braves’ starter, Brandon Beachy, looked sharp early, and Atlanta jumped out to a 3-0 advantage. Then 3 errors led to 3 unearned runs, blowing the Braves’ first lead of the young season, and nothing went right after that. Atlanta fell to the Astros 8-3, and with that, the Braves are off to their worst start in decades at 0-4.

    Should Braves fans worry?

    The cost of a lost opportunity is at least a small concern. In what figures to be a tight NL East race, blowing a great chance to log several wins against Houston and New York teams many project to finish last in their respective divisions… well, that stings. And a team that missed the playoffs by 1 game last year knows all too well that any opportunity squandered could be the difference between playing ball in October or crying in your beer.  However, the fact that the Phillies and Marlins have also stumbled out of the gate with 3 losses each certainly helps.

    The bigger question, though, is this: Should Braves fans worry about the team itself?  Is the 0-4 start a harbinger of things to come?  Is this more than merely a poor start? Is it an indication of fundamental flaws that could doom Atlanta’s 2012 season?

    Only time will tell how the season will play out for the Braves, but here’s a good rule of thumb for determining whether or not it’s reasonable to worry.  Ask yourself this question:

    Are the Braves playing as they should reasonably be expected to play?

    If, on balance, the lineup is performing close to capacity and yet it’s still not scoring runs, it’s time to worry.  However, if the offense should quite reasonably be expected to improve, then it’s too early for hand wringing and teeth gnashing. (Repeat this formula in regard to the pitching staff.)

    Here are the current projected 2012 season totals of a few key Braves players, based on 500 at-bats:

    AVG

    HR

    RBI

    OBP

    Bourn

    .133

    0

    0

    .188

    Freeman

    .250

    0

    0

    .250

    Heyward

    .182

    0

    81

    .308

    Uggla

    .077

    0

    0

    .250

    If projections such as these look silly to you just 4 games into the season, then it should seem equally absurd to read too much into Atlanta’s 0-4 start.

    Freddie Freeman's spring hot streak has not yet translated to regular season play

    If you believe Dan Uggla will finish the year with 0 homers and a .077 average… or that Michael Bourn will hit .133 for the year without a single stolen base, then you should panic!  If not, well, perhaps it’s a bit early to lose sleep over the team’s dismal performance thus far.

    Once again, if the members of a team’s lineup and/or pitching staff, as a whole, are playing up to their potential—or reasonably close to it—and are still falling short, that’s a signal that there simply isn’t enough talent to win. If, however, those players aren’t performing nearly as well as they are capable of playing, then the problem is not lack of ability, but underperformance.

    The bad news about underperformance is that, well… you’re underperforming. The good news is, you’re capable of more.

    It is worth noting that 3 of the 4 starters Braves’ hitters have faced so far have been southpaws. And this is a team that struggled mightily against port-siders last year.  With 4 left-handed hitters in Atlanta’s lineup again this season, it’s reasonable to be a little apprehensive about the Braves’ vulnerability to lefties. But can the Braves continue to perform THIS poorly against them?  That’s not possible.

    Four utterly forgettable games down, 158 still to go.  Should fans be disappointed with the Braves at this point? Yes.

    Frustrated? Absolutely.

    Worried? Not yet.

    Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.