• Julio Teheran

    4 Ways the Kemp Trade Makes the Braves Better … This Year and Beyond

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – Say this for Alex Anthopoulos. He’s a creative fellow.

    His first deal as general manager of the Atlanta Braves is just the latest example of Anthopoulos making the implausible possible, turning the strange into sensible, building by taking a road few could even imagine, let alone travel to completion.

    For the thought of Matt Kemp playing limited innings in left field to keep his power bat in the lineup in 2018, the Braves were best served by moving the oft-injured veteran. Anthopoulos did just that in a stunning deal Saturday that draws as much attention to next winter as it does to the approaching spring and summer.

    Braves General Manager Alex Anthopoulos

    Braves General Manager Alex Anthopoulos

    Kemp heads back to Los Angeles, where I doubt he plays an inning with the Dodgers given his defensive limitations. In return, the Braves received four players – three of whom could contribute to Atlanta next season; one who already has been designated for assignment. The contracts of Adrian Gonzalez (released upon request), Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir will be absorbed by the Braves in return for Kemp going to the Dodgers.

    This is a good move. It is not addition by subtraction in the sense of dealing one player for, in essence, three players: McCarthy, Kazmir and Charlie Culberson. But look closer, and you see this deal works for Atlanta in several ways:

     

    1. The Budget

    The Braves would have owed Kemp $31.5 million over the final two years of his current deal. In taking on three players entering the final year of existing deals, Atlanta will pay Gonzalez ($22.357 million), McCarthy ($11.5 million) and Kazmir ($17.66 million) a total of $51.517 million. The Dodgers kicked in $4 million in the deal, but the biggest thing is at the end of next season, all that money comes off the books.

    Entering the 2018-19 offseason, one that is chock full of marquee stars (Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, etc.), the Braves are going to have enormous flexibility. The only guaranteed deals on the Atlanta roster after next season are for Julio Teheran, Freddie Freeman and Ender Inciarte. There always is a chance Teheran could be shipped elsewhere.

    Despite solid offense, Matt Kemp struggled to stay healthy in a Braves uniform and weakened the outfield defensively

    Despite solid offense, Matt Kemp struggled to stay healthy in a Braves uniform and weakened the outfield defensively

    Even if the Braves were to make long-term offers to a couple of their core internal pieces (say, Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna), Atlanta still will have a massive amount of money freed up to play in the free agent market in maybe the most intriguing offseason in years.

    2. The Outfield

    Speaking of Acuna, moving Kemp now frees up a corner spot for the top prospect in the Braves organization. Acuna boat-raced through three levels of the minors as a 19-year-old, then won MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League.

    Yes, the Braves may opt to keep him at Triple-A Gwinnett for the first few weeks of the season to gain an additional year of control. Culberson gives you a viable option in left field for that timeframe, but make no mistake. Acuna will be up and contributing early in 2018, and now he has a spot.

    3. The Rotation

    Yes, we all know how that worked out last season. Jaime Garcia was serviceable before netting a prospect in a trade deadline deal. R.A. Dickey pitched well at times and really helped the rotation’s younger members by serving as a mentor. Bartolo Colon was a disaster and eventually was sent packing.

    RHP Brandon McCarthy

    RHP Brandon McCarthy

    McCarthy made 19 appearances (16 starts) with a sub-4 ERA last season. A decent showing in spring training slots him into a rotation spot, helping to anchor a group that figures to include two rookies who debuted last season in Sean Newcomb and Luiz Gohara. It also moves a couple of younger arms, most notably Max Fried, into the bullpen to further bolster a group that struggled mightily at times a season ago.

    Kazmir is best described as a flyer, the left-hander missing all of last season with a hip injury. If he is healthy and can produce anything, it would be a bonus.

    4. The Bench

    Culberson, a graduate of Calhoun High, comes home to fill the role Jace Peterson held before the Braves non-tendered him earlier this offseason. Culberson hit .455 in the NLCS and was 3-for-5 in the World Series, and has made 29-plus career appearances at shortstop, second base, third base and left field. Anthopoulos said Saturday that Culberson plays “Gold Glove caliber” defense at shortstop, which largely explains his interest in adding the utility man to Atlanta’s bench.

     

    I have a feeling the Braves are not done yet. There still is the thought of a bridge at third base to get to Austin Riley, especially a right-handed bat with power to slide behind Freeman. Atlanta still could look to move Nick Markakis from right field, but would need now to get an outfielder in return (I know a guy on South Beach who would great in left field with a tomahawk across his chest). The Braves could benefit from another veteran arm or two for the bullpen.

    But after bemoaning the lack of action at the Winter Meetings, the Anthopoulos Era kicks off with a bang: A creative, compelling deal that should show Braves fans the new guy is pretty sharp.

    —30—

    Bud L. Ellis is a lifelong Braves fan who worked as a sports writer for daily newspapers throughout Georgia earlier in his writing career, with duties including covering the Atlanta Braves, the World Series and MLB’s All-Star Game. Ellis currently lives in the Atlanta suburbs and contributes his thoughts on Braves baseball and MLB for a variety of outlets. Reach him on Twitter at @bud006.

    7 Key Questions for Braves as Critical Offseason Looms

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – Tailgating alongside Circle 75 Parkway in the shadow of SunTrust Park on Saturday, hours before the penultimate game of the Atlanta Braves’ debut season in their new home, the news flashed across the Twitter-verse that catcher Kurt Suzuki had punted pending free agency in favor of a one-year deal to return in 2018.

    Approximately 20 hours later, my trip to the confluence of Interstates 75 and 285 for the final game of the first year in the Braves’ new home was postponed due to a dead battery and a broken battery connection. It laid waste to plans for the day, but as I settled into the Braves room at home after performing the auto repair necessary in advance of a busy week, I realized my unplanned vehicle issues served as a poignant reminder that for all the planning in the world, things can go in a different direction.

    Braves have re-signed C Kurt Suzuki to a 1-year extension

    Braves have re-signed C Kurt Suzuki to a 1-year extension

    Hence, we arrive at the final week of the Braves’ 2017 season, one in which some felt Atlanta might push to contend for a National League wild-card spot. Many more felt this would be a season of progression; this correspondent predicted this edition of Atlanta baseball would win 78 games. It is a goal mathematically still attainable, provided the Braves win eight games in seven days to close this campaign.

    My point being this: You can plan for the future all you want, lay out the best path forward but, at the end of the day, things happen that can throw off that plan. You have to be able to adjust, to learn from what occurred and shift direction accordingly.

    There is no denying the Braves of 2017 have been equally tantalizing and frustrating. So it goes in a rebuild, especially with an influx of young talent in a new stadium, with flashes of brilliance and ineptitude equally woven into the day-to-day tapestry of the six-month marathon known as a baseball season.

    As the final week of this season dawns, a look at some of the hot-button issues surrounding this franchise as winter is (nearly) here, a season in which the decisions made will help define what is to come in future summers.

    Who is manager in 2018?

    Everybody was thrilled when Brian Snitker – who is the definition of a Braves lifer – was brought back for 2017, with an option for 2018. Atlanta’s passionate finishing kick to close 2016, winning 20 of its final 30 games, gave Snitker the chance to manage a full major-league season this year.

    But a series of tactical errors and some questionable handling of the Braves’ young talent leads me to believe he will not be retained. That is not an indictment of a man who does not have a job guaranteed after next Sunday. He managed attempting to win every night, even if that mentality ran counter to playing younger players for development of the rebuild.

    Braves have not announced whether they will exercise their 2018 option on manager Brian Snitker.

    Braves have not announced whether they will exercise their 2018 option on manager Brian Snitker.

    Should this team fulfil its appointed prophecy and win a World Series, Snitker deserves a ring. He served his role in the rebuild and, for the most part, served it well. The players love him. But the franchise needs a manager now who will be here in 2022. That is not Snitker.

    Who comprises the rotation in 2018?

    Atlanta rolled the dice on veterans to cover innings in 2017 – a sound strategy given the time needed to let the first really big wave of young talent to continue percolating in the minors. R.A. Dickey has proven to be steady. Jaime Garcia pitched well at times before netting a prospect at the trade deadline. Bartolo Colon was an unmitigated disaster, as much as we all wanted him to be good.

    General manager John Coppolella is quoted today in published reports that the Braves will look to their young arms to take a step forward in 2018. That tells me Julio Teheran, who was awful for most of the year at home but has turned around his season the past month, will be here. Mike Foltynewicz and Luiz Gohara look like locks for the 2018 rotation, with Sean Newcomb likely to be in the top five, too.

    That leaves one spot. The feeling here is R.A. Dickey rides off into the sunset and heads home to Nashville, leaving the opening as a battle between Max Fried, Lucas Sims and a cast of others who with an impressive camp could start the year in Atlanta (and while I think it’s unlikely they skip Triple-A, I would not discount Kolby Allard or Mike Soroka emerging in March).

    Who pitches out of the bullpen?

    Atlanta’s relief corps in the second half of the season has been a motley mix of veterans (Jason Motte, Rex Brothers, Jim Johnson) and promising young arms (A.J. Minter, Daniel Winkler, Akeel Morris). For now, it appears both closer Arodys Vizcaino and set-up man Jose Ramirez are likely to be in the bullpen to start 2018, but the other five or six slots are up for grabs.

    Sam Freeman certainly has earned a long look next spring, the left-hander proving effective time and time again. Minter, with an offseason of rest, should be ready to unleash his high-90s velocity on back-to-back days. Winkler has impressed now that he is healthy again. Coppolella indicated the Braves will pursue one or two bullpen pieces. Adding a Brad Hand to the core group would go a long way to settling the final innings.

    Which corner outfielder has played his final game at SunTrust Park?

    I do not envision a scenario where the Braves trade Matt Kemp. For one, his contract (through 2019) and the money owed makes it difficult to move the oft-injured right-handed slugger. More importantly, for better or worse, this lineup at this moment is much better with a healthy Kemp hitting cleanup behind Freddie Freeman.

    The Braves effectively owe OF Matt Kemp $36-million over the remaining two years of his contract.

    The Braves effectively owe OF Matt Kemp $36-million over the remaining two years of his contract.

    The thought here is the Braves retain Kemp at least through 2018, using Lane Adams – who has enjoyed a breakthrough season and should be the fourth outfielder coming out of camp – to fill in when Kemp is out. That leaves Nick Markakis as the odd-man out, and with one year at $11 million left on his contract and another solid year offensively, there should be plenty of suitors on the market.

    So an outfielder gets traded … who takes that spot?

    Like seriously? Short of leaving baseball for soccer – and his speed would fit in nicely with Atlanta United – Ronald Acuna will be in the Braves outfield on opening day March 29, 2018. And while he will be a 20-year-old rookie who will experience the inevitable ups and downs from playing in the highest league in the world, there is little doubt Acuna is going to be a difference maker … and soon.

    What does Atlanta’s lineup look like in 2018?

    There often is debate online whether the Braves would be better served by putting Ozzie Albies at the top of the lineup. But when you have Ender Inciarte – who is three hits shy of becoming the first Atlanta player in 21 years to reach 200 hits – it is a moot point. Inciarte, for all the teeth-grinding by the sabermetric folks, is a very good hitter who gets on base. He hits leadoff. Stats are great. Results are great, too.

    Albies has impressed in the two-spot and is a switch hitter. He stays there, with the thought he will adjust to the league as it adjusts to him. Freddie Freeman and Kemp are anchored in the 3-4 spots. No doubt there.

    Beyond that, there are options. The catching tandem of Tyler Flowers and Suzuki, who will be back in 2018 (Atlanta is almost certain to pick up Flowers’ club option) could slot fifth or sixth. Acuna likely hits sixth or seventh. Dansby Swanson’s adjustments to breaking balls on the outer third since returning from Gwinnett leads me to believe he should hit sixth or seventh.

    OF Ender Inciarte could become the first Brave in 21 years to knock 200 hits in a season.

    OF Ender Inciarte could soon become the first Brave in 21 years to knock 200 hits in a season.

    The one thing that could turn this around would be if Atlanta trades for or signs a power-hitting third baseman. Kansas City’s Mike Moustakas was interesting, but his big power surge this season and the fact he is a free agent in the prime of his career very well may price him out of Atlanta’s range.

    And with the emergence of Johan Camargo, and the flashes seen from Rio Ruiz, it may be a good thing Moustakas will command a long-term, high-money deal. Atlanta could do far worse than a Camargo/Ruiz platoon next season.

    How patient should be fanbase be in 2018?

    For all the pomp and circumstance as we look back to 1991, the fact remains that Atlanta squad which won the NL pennant had its foundation laid over a four-season period (1987-90). In this age of instant gratification and less-than-zero patience, Braves fans should be cautioned that it is possible a fifth-consecutive sub-.500 season could loom in 2018.

    Rebuilds take time and do not produce instant results. Yes, I know the good folks in Braves Country have suffered since the midpoint of the 2014 season. That is a long time to struggle. But there are good signs this rebuild is progressing as designed. Sure, there will be forks in the road in which decisions that will define this franchise have to be made.

    Several of those decisions loom as this summer descends into the offseason. In the coming weeks, I will reach out to members of the fanbase to discuss the points raised above. It is my goal to communicate the raw feelings of the fanbase as we enter what I feel may be the offseason that defines the coming years of this franchise, and whether this great rebuild results in what we all hope.

    Running the risk of hyperbole, I feel the next few months will be critical in determining the future of this franchise and how history will judge this era of Braves baseball.

    —30—

     

    Bud L. Ellis is a lifelong Braves fan who worked as a sports writer for daily newspapers throughout Georgia earlier in his writing career, with duties including covering the Atlanta Braves, the World Series and MLB’s All-Star Game. Ellis currently lives in the Atlanta suburbs and contributes his thoughts on Braves baseball and MLB for a variety of outlets. Reach him on Twitter at @bud006

    Big Decisions Ahead for Braves

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    CUMMING, Ga. – Shagging fly balls at my baseball team’s first fall practice of this season tonight, a random thought crossed my mind. It took me back to about this time last year, and sparked an idea that – on a rare night without deadlines or work stuff to occupy my sleepless evening hours – intrigued me.

    I mention no deadlines because deadline came early on this 29th day of August. The Atlanta Braves were rained out in Philadelphia, a postponement announced two hours before first pitch, a pronouncement that meant for one blessed night, the Braves would not be tormented by the worst team in Major League Baseball.

    So, after a little digging, I confirmed that the 29th day of August last year also featured no Braves baseball. Atlanta was off that day, beginning that idle date on the schedule with a 48-83 record. Tonight’s unexpected evening off the diamond found the Braves with a 57-72 mark, far better than where this team sat a season ago.

    Will Brandon Phillips be in a Braves uniform on Sep 1?

    Will Brandon Phillips be in a Braves uniform on Sep 1?

    But you never would know it from the blogosphere, from social media, from sports talk shows and water cooler chats (do people still chat around the water cooler? Let’s assume they do somewhere) that have doom and gloom falling all over a team that, to be frank, has stunk the past six weeks. The Braves reached .500 on July 16 at 45-45, but have won just 12 times since.

    As Atlanta approaches September, we are reminded last year’s team would start a 20-10 run on Aug. 30, closing out Turner Field in style with victories that knocked the Tigers out of the American League playoffs while whetting the appetite of Braves Country for a 2017 that would feature a new stadium and a new beginning.

    And while there is little doubt SunTrust Park has lived up to its preseason billing, the same cannot be said for this team that – while in the midst of rebuilding – had at least planted a seed that this season would be a breakthrough to respectability. And sure, while being nine wins better than 365 days ago is impressive improvement, it should be better.

    September dawns soon. The active roster expands, several players are expected to return from the disabled list and a handful of prospects may merit promotion for the proverbial cup of coffee (Ronald Acuna will not be one of them, this correspondent continues to say). There is little optimism that these Braves will replicate the spirited final kick of a September ago, and honestly, that’s OK.

    The season’s final month is a time to start answering questions. The Braves have more than their fair share:

    What to do when Johan Camargo comes off the disabled list?

    Camargo, long impressive with his glove and cannon of a right arm, has shocked all of us with a .292 batting average and .781 OPS in just 185 at-bats. Those offensive numbers are better than anything he produced in the minors. The Braves seem serious about Camargo being part of their long-term plans, a pronouncement that cannot be based on two months’ worth of ABs.

    When he returns, Camargo needs to play every single day.

    Where does Camargo play once he is healthy?

    This one is easy, and hard, at the same time. He has to be the starting third baseman for the final four weeks of the season. Period.

    Why is playing Camargo daily an easy decision?

    Braves IF Johan Camargo is expected to return to the lineup September.

    Braves IF Johan Camargo is expected to return to the lineup September.

    This has less to do with Camargo and more to do with the two players lining up in the middle of Atlanta’s infield. Dansby Swanson’s demotion to Triple-A, where he got regular at-bats, gave him the time needed to adjust his swing and stance at the plate. He has been outstanding at shortstop since returning from the minors to replace the injured Camargo.

    At second base, Ozzie Albies has adjusted to major-league pitching after a rough beginning. His speed is breathtaking to watch. His smile lights up a ballpark on its own. Seeing Albies and Swanson up the middle is something Braves fans have dreamed of since the great teardown of this franchise three years go. Both are cornerstone pieces. They have to play, together, every single day.

    Why is playing Camargo daily a hard decision?

    It is hard to describe the impact Brandon Phillips has made on the Braves in his first season with his hometown team. The Redan High product has produced offensively, served as a veteran presence for the younger players in the clubhouse, and moved to third base – where he has looked every bit like a guy who has spent his entire major-league career at the hot corner.

    Phillips is one hit away from 2,000 for his career. He has more than proven he can play every day and produce on offense and defense. He most likely will get a chance to extend his career elsewhere. As much as it would be an incredible story for it to continue in his hometown, Phillips’ journey in 2018 almost certainly will unfold elsewhere.

    Unless Phillips were to take a one-year deal as a bench bat and mentor, he won’t be back in Atlanta next season. As much as we all love him and respect him, the greater good of the organization dictates a serious reduction in his playing time once September arrives.

    Is Julio Teheran here next season?

    Teheran’s 2017 season has been maddeningly inconsistent. Yes, his numbers at home still stink (2-9, 6.54 ERA). Yes, he’s allowed a career-high 29 homers and posted a career-worst 1.374 WHIP and 4.90 ERA since becoming a full-time starter in 2013.

    On the flip side, he’s four starts away from his fifth consecutive season of 30-plus starts, 35 innings away from his fifth consecutive season of 185-plus innings, is signed to a club-friendly deal through 2020 and is a two-time All-Star.

    Will the Braves explore  trading troubled ace Julio Teheran this winter?

    Will the Braves explore trading their inconsistent ace Julio Teheran this winter?

    I think of what somebody once said of Hall of Famer Steve Carlton, that when he’s good, he’s great, and when he’s bad, he’s terrible. That’s been Teheran in 2017. This will not be an easy call either way, but I lean toward this: in a rotation that figures to feature plenty of young arms in the next two years, Teheran has 156 career starts and is 28 innings shy of 1,000 pitched in the majors.

    Who pitches out of the bullpen?

    This is where the Braves should rely heavily – and I mean heavily – on youth. Yes, it may impact the overall win-loss number, but again, for the greater good of the franchise, Atlanta needs to see how some of its young arms fare late in games.

    For Jason Motte, Rex Brothers and Jim Johnson, this means nothing more than mop-up duty. The Braves feel they have viable candidate for the late innings in Arodys Vizcaino and Jose Ramirez. But there is a long list of guys who need opportunities in high-leverage situations, including Sam Freeman, Akeel Morris, Dan Winkler, A.J. Minter, Ian Krol and Luke Jackson.

    Depending on how those arms fare in September, the bullpen could be a very big – and expensive – focus in the offseason.

    There are decisions to be made, some unpopular, some necessary, all with a focus on making the next Aug. 29 we encounter not a day to ponder how bad things are, but to enjoy positive results that this franchise and its fanbase deserve.

    And the discovery process needs to begin right now.

    —30—

     

    Bud L. Ellis is a lifelong Braves fan who worked as a sports writer for daily newspapers throughout Georgia earlier in his writing career, with duties including covering the Atlanta Braves, the World Series and MLB’s All-Star Game. Ellis currently lives in the Atlanta suburbs and contributes his thoughts on Braves baseball and MLB for a variety of outlets. Reach him on Twitter at @bud006.

    How The Braves Can Win In 2016

    As the Braves’ 2015 season draws to a merciful close, it’s time to start thinking about next year. Well, okay … it was time to start thinking about next year a long time ago. But now that the offseason is almost upon us, let’s have a closer look at what next year’s roster might look like.

    After chatting with many Braves fans on Twitter, it has come to my attention that some are pessimistic about the direction of this ball club. Twitter, as you know, is a wonderful place defined always by thoughtful discourse, level-headed debate and rational, well-reasoned viewpoints. So imagine my surprise when some took to calling Braves Director of Baseball Operations John Hart an “idiot”—or worse—for his execution of the team’s deconstruction and reconstruction over the past year. “This team still going to suck in 2017,” some told me. (Opening Day, 2017 being the target date when the Braves’ front office plans for the team to once again be strong postseason contenders.)

    Braves Director of Baseball Operations, John Hart

    Braves Director of Baseball Operations, John Hart

    Look, it’s been a long year in Braves Country. Fans who attend the remaining home games at Turner Field should receive a t-shirt emblazoned with a Braves logo and the words “I survived 2015!”  It’s been tough. I get it. But I think pessimism about the Braves’ long-term future is unfounded. And while feeling less than giddy about next season is far more understandable, I wouldn’t write off 2016 as another 6-month-long drinking game waiting to happen (A Braves reliever just served up another run-scoring hit… “SHOT!”  Wait, two runs scored? “DOUBLE SHOT!”).

    In fact, I think the Braves can win in 2016. Will they? I have no earthly idea. But I believe it’s quite possible. Now, that might seem hard to swallow on the heels of season in which Atlanta will have lost well over 90 games, but it’s not nearly as far fetched as it might sound at first blush.

    Here are the keys to a winning 2016 season:

    BRING IN AN ACE:

    I’m on record as predicting that the Braves will pursue one of the available free agent aces this winter. They are: David Price, Zach Grienke, Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann. Other quality free agent starters will include Mike Leake and Jeff Smardzija.

    But why, you might ask, would the Braves pursue a free agent ace this winter, rather than waiting for 2017? There are several reasons:

    1 – They would like to build some momentum heading into the new ballpark. If the Braves are coming off of back-to-back terrible seasons when SunTrust Park opens its gates, it’s could be tougher to get fans excited about the new beginning.

    LHP David Price is one of several top-end starting pitchers on the free agent market.

    LHP David Price is one of several top-end starting pitchers on the free agent market this winter.

    2 – Why not? They have the money. In a recent interview, John Hart pointed out that the Braves have shed a lot of payroll and now have a lot more flexibility to spend money on talent, adding “I think, again, what we do with that financial flexibility remains to be determined. But I think it’s going to be something where we’ll be aggressive in our approach.”  Also, consider the fact that any free agent starting pitchers the Braves might pursue are going to be looking for 5+ year deals. If need be, Atlanta could structure a deal to pay a little less in year-one of the contract and make up the difference over the balance of the deal when the new ballpark revenue is flowing.

    3 – The opportunity may not be there a year from now. There are at least a half-dozen quality starting pitchers, including several aces, available via free agency this winter, but the 2016-2017 free agent pitching market is shaping up to be a thin one. So if the Braves want to add a veteran free agent ace to anchor this young rotation going forward, it makes sense to do it now–this winter, rather than wait.

    4 – Acquiring another top-of-rotation starter opens up the possibility of trading Julio Teheran for a bat, if/when the Braves feel another young hurler is ready to replace him in the rotation. And who knows? That opportunity could arise at some point during the 2016 season.

    BETTER PERFORMANCE FROM MIDDLE/BOTTOM OF ROTATION:

    A free agent ace, together with Shelby Miller and Julio Teheran, could form a heck of a trio. But, they’ll need to have Terhan back on track. It’s been a tough year for Julio, but you have to remember that this is the same guy who posted an ERA right around 3.00 over 400+ innings though the two seasons prior. He posted a 2.89 ERA in 2014 and opposing hitters batted .232 against him. And he looks to be finishing strong this season.

    RHP Julio Teheran

    RHP Julio Teheran

    Hey, he’s 24 years old. Perhaps it’s a bit reactionary to write him off after one substandard season, don’t you think?

    The Braves need Teheran to step up, and there is reason to hope that he will, but they’ll also need better performance from the bottom of the rotation. Rookie starters Williams Perez, Matt Wisler, Mike Foltynewicz and Manny Banuelos all currently feature ERA’s north of 5.00. Now, it is worth noting that Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery all posted 5.00+ ERA’s in their rookie seasons too. That should tell you that first-year stats are not a reliable predictor of future performance.

    But while early-career struggles are entirely normal, if the Braves are going to win in 2016, they’ll have to get more out of the bottom of the rotation than they what they got this season. They don’t need anyone to compete for a CY Young award here at the back end of the group. ERA’s well down into the 4.00′s would suffice.

    REVAMP BULLPEN:

    The Braves bullpen has been terrible. So bad, in fact, that it may be hard to believe that the Braves can turn it around in a single winter. But consider a few things:

    First, the bullpen, as bad as it’s been, isn’t barren. Arodys Vizcaino has been a huge ray of light. If he continues to dominate, the Braves may have their closer for years to come. He gives Atlanta something to build around as they reconstruct the bullpen. Also, Matt Marksberry has shown himself to be a highly effective left-handed specialist as long as he’s limited to that role. Lefty hitters are batting just .154 against him. And Peter Moylan might be able to hang around as a groundball specialist for double play situations.

    RHP Jasn Grilli

    RHP Jasn Grilli (right) With catcher A.J. Pierzynski (left)

    Second, some of that cash the Braves will have to spend could be invested in relief help.

    And finally, the Braves have several quality bullpen arms on the DL right now, who are expected to return to action early next year:

    • Jason Grilli expects to be healthy and ready for training camp in February.
    • Chis Withrow, who the Braves acquired earlier this year from the Dodgers, has back-end-of-the-bullpen stuff. He is recovering from Tommy John surgery and should join the team early next season.
    • Shae Simmons also underwent Tommy John surgery, and like Withrow, has the potential to be a late-inning guy in this Atlanta ‘pen. He will likely be ready for spring training.
    • Paco Rodriguez, a hard-throwing lefty also acquired from the Dodgers, is rehabbing from elbow surgery (not Tommy John) and should be ready in the spring as well.

    When you consider the relief arms the Braves have on the shelf, as well as the ability to spend some cash on a free agent reliever (trades, of course, are also a possibility), there is every reason to believe the Atlanta bullpen could be vastly improved next year.

    OLIVERA MUST HIT:

    The Braves rolled the dice over the summer in trading for 30 year old Cuban standout Hector Olivera. John Hart and Co. believe Olivera can provide offense at the hot corner and be a consistent middle-of-the-order bat to protect Freddie Freeman in the lineup. The Braves think he has a good chance to be the offensive equivalent to Scott Rolen or Travis Fryman. The Dodgers, of course, believe in him as well, having inked him to a deal worth more than 60-million dollars before he ever took his first swing in the big leagues.

    3B Hector Olivera

    3B Hector Olivera

    Here’s hoping they’re right about him. He’ll be a big key for 2016. If he hits, that could make a big difference for this lineup.

    SCRATCH OUT RUNS:

    Even if Olivera lives up to expectations, the Braves lineup won’t set the world on fire. But if the pitching is solid next season (and it has a chance to be), the lineup only has to approximate its performance through the first half of 2015. At the midway point of this season, Atlanta was squarely middle-of-the-pack in runs scored and on-base percentage, and they were 5th in the NL in team avg. They made it happen with a scrappy lineup that was willing and able to put pressure on opposing pitchers and play A-B-C baseball. If the pitching staff does its job, that kind of offensive output would likely be enough to push the Braves over .500.

    If you feel good about the possibilities for next season, you’re not crazy. After all, the Braves were a .500 ball club halfway through the 2015 season. Injuries to Freeman and Grilli led or contributed to a midseason skid, followed by the selloff of veteran anchors like Jose Uribe and Kelly Johnson along with multiple relievers, at which point the wheels came off. Again, the Braves have a lot of bullpen help on the way, and other veteran help can once again be imported.

    I’m not predicting that the Braves will win next year. The only thing I can say with confidence is that next season will be better than the present one. But that’s not saying very much. They may very well finish near the cellar once again. My point is simply that there is a realistic scenario in which they could win.

    If the front office brings in a high-end starting pitcher and a few people step up next season, the Braves could turn things around in 2016. Don’t look for them to compete for a World Series ring, but eclipsing .500 would be a vast improvement over the torturous season Braves fans have just endured. And that may be an attainable goal.

    Will the Braves win in 2016? Tell me what you think: @FriedbasballATL

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

    Braves sending 3 to ASG, J-Up part of final vote

    The Braves learned Sunday that Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran and Craig Kimbrel would represent the team at the upcoming All Star Game at Target Field in Minnesota. They, like the rest of us, were also thrilled that Justin Upton is one of 5 players vying for the final roster spot. The Final Vote closes at 4 p.m. (ET) on Thursday.

    Justin Upton is one of 5 vying for a final roster spot representing the NL in Minnesota.

    Justin Upton is one of 5 vying for a final roster spot representing the NL in Minnesota.

    Justin Upton has put up exceptional numbers despite deep slumps in the first half of the season. He has a .275/.350/.505 slash with a club-leading 17 homers and 50 RBIs. He has hit .318 at home this season, notching 11 homers and 31 of his RBIs at the Ted.

    Fans can vote at MLB.com or by tweeting #VoteJUp. Upton is up against Justin Morneau of the Rockies, Anthony Rendon of the Nationals, Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs and Casey McGehee of the Marlins.

    Freddie Freeman will now have two All Star appearances in his young career. This year he was selected by the NL players. As you will remember, Braves Country put Freddie in the game last year with the Final Vote. Freddie’s numbers are by far the best offensive numbers on the club in the first half. He has a .299/.390/.507 line with 26 doubles, 13 homers and 47 RBIs. Freddie already has a career high 3 triples on the season. His best numbers have come in clutch situations. He has hit .345 when the game is tied, .297 with 14 RBIs in the 7th inning or later and a ridiculous .313 with 16 RBIs in at-bats when there are 2 outs. And his .344 average when the Braves win is, of course, a huge reason for their success.

    Julio Teheran has been the ace that the Braves needed this season with the loss of Beachy and Medlen at the beginning of the season and Floyd recently. While his 8-5 record doesn’t quite reflect just how good Teheran has been, his 2.29 ERA does. In 126 innings pitched before the all-star break, Teheran has struck out 108 batters while walking 26. He has thrown 2 complete game shutouts this season to add to his clear dominance.

    The Braves have already said that Teheran will attend the All Star Game in Minnesota. However, it is unlike that Teheran will pitch in the game.

    It’s no surprise to the baseball world that Craig Kimbrel is making his 4th ASG appearance in as many seasons. Kimbrel has a lights-out 2.04 ERA and is tied above the NL leader board with 27 saves. In 35 1/3 innings, Kimbrel has 60 strikeouts. In addition to putting up shining numbers, Kimbrel surpassed future hall-of-famer John Smoltz to take the franchise record in saves this season.

    A player that wasn’t selected to the All Star Game and could have been had he not been injured is Evan Gattis.

    Prior to going on the disabled list with a right rhomboid spasm that they eventually learned was a bulging disc, Gattis was putting up exceptional numbers. In 63 games as the everyday catcher for the Braves, he put together a .290/.342/.558 line. Prior to the injury, his 16 home runs led all MLB catchers. He had 10 doubles, a triple and 39 RBIs.

    With Gattis behind the plate, the Braves pitching staff has a 49-40 record with a 3.22 ERA (third best in the National League). Against other NL teams, the Braves have a 3.08 ERA, good for second in the league behind their rivals the Washington Nationals. In teams won by the club, the pitching staff has a 2.02 ERA.

    Gattis has morphed into a great all-around catcher. His footwork behind the plate has improved immensely, much of it thanks to the tutelage of veteran Gerald Laird, and he is calling consistently good game behind the dish. It is only a matter of time before we can say Evan Gattis, all star catcher.

    All Star Game festivities include the All-Star Futures Game and the All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game on Sunday, the Gillette Home Run Derby Monday night and the 85th MLB All Star Game on Tuesday.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

     

     

    As Braves scuffle, Nats grab first place

    The Atlanta Braves have lost 3 games in the past week when they have a had a lead in the late innings. They’ve lost 2 games where they’ve battled back to make it to the 13th inning only to give up 5 runs and the ballgame. They were swept by the Phillies who, by all indications, are on the verge of trading away some or all of the pieces that once brought them multiple division titles. And they’ve failed their starting pitching offensively time and time again with lack of run support. If the 2014 Atlanta Braves want a spot in the postseason this year, it’s time to get it together.

    When the Braves went out and signed Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Julio Teheran and Andrelton Simmons to long-term deals this winter, the consensus among baseball writers about Jason Heyward was that the talent and potential is there, he just hasn’t met it. Many compared he and Freeman to McCann and Francouer when they came up, saying Heyward was the expected superstar and Freeman surpassed him. Many said that Jason’s 2-year extension was a tryout, essentially, for Heyard to prove that he deserves a deal with this club. If that is the case, Heyward is more than proving himself this season. Heyward is now hitting .303/.381/.472 in his past 35 games, all of them in the lead off spot. He has upped his speed on the bases, stealing 9 bags so far. His defense in right field is likely the best in the National League. When compared to other players in either league, defensively Heyward is in the top 5 valuable players, according to Fangraphs, and surpasses teammate Andrelton Simmons.

    The legend of Evan Gattis, former ski lift operator and pizza delivery driver, continues to grow. Gattis takes a 17-game hitting streak and the most homers of any catcher in the big leagues into the series against Washington. Not only has Gattis improved behind the plate defensively and with increased authority calling games, his hitting is more consistent and his power even more dominant. Instead of hitting just fastballs out of baseball parks everywhere, he is hitting offspeed stuff with equal aplomb. Despite taking an off day, Gattis extended his hitting streak to 17 games  yesterday with yet another homer against the Phillies, his 16th on the year. Gattis has now improved his average to .294 with 7 doubles, 16 homers and 38 RBIs on the year. Gattis trails only Tommy La Stella in batting average among his teammates, though has 36 more appearances this season than Tommy. Gattis leads the team in RBI and slugging percentage (.588).

    Coming off his worst career start, Julio Teheran stepped up big time against the visiting Phils. In his last outing against the Reds, Julio surrendered 10 hits and 7 earned runs (a career first) in 6 1/3 innings. He bounced back in a big way against Philly, going 8 strong innings with only 4 hits given up and 1 earned run allowed. He lowered his ERA to 2.31 on the season. Unfortunately, Julio did not get the win due to the ongoing issues in the ‘pen and kept his record at 6-4.

    NATS AND BRAVES SQUARE OFF FOR FIRST PLACE…

    The Braves enter the 4-game series with the Nationals 1 1/2 games behind Washington in the National League East. The Nats enter the series with a 37-33 record and a 2-game winning streak. The Braves sit at 36-35, having lost the last 3 games to the previously mentioned Phillies. The Braves are tied for 2nd in the division with the surprising Miami Marlins who may or may not have what it takes to keep on winning through to September. Though only 5 and 6 games back, respectively, the Phillies and Mets don’t appear to be contenders this year with the pieces they have. The Phillies will likely sell at the deadline–maybe even a fire sale–but, the cash-strapped Mets may hang on to the less expensive pieces they have given their strength in the farm system. Of the two, the Phillies are more likely to be a spoiler alongside the Marlins, assuming Miami can’t keep pace with Washington and Atlanta.

    David Carpenter has had the worst luck on the mound of any reliever this season. His numbers bear that out. With a 4-1 record and a 4.23 ERA in 27 2/3 innings this season, Carpenter has struggled in high pressure situations in the last 2 months. His April ERA was a stellar 2.61. It then ballooned in May to 4.97 before dropping to 4.23 where it is now. His bad luck continued in the Philly series when he was removed from a game with bicep tightness/soreness and was then placed on the 15-day DL. In his place, Pedro Beato was recalled. Beato had a 1-0 record at Gwinnett in 2014 with a 3.49 ERA in 28 1/3 innings. In his 3 games with the club this season he had yet to give up a run in 4 1/3 innings. He had allowed only 3 hits in his appearances and struck out 3. Beato was sent down to Gwinnett Thursday morning and righthander Juan Jaime was called up in his place. In 26 1/3 innings at Gwinnett, Jaime has a 1-0 record with a 2.39 ERA and 13 saves. He has 20 walks to his 40 strikeouts.

    The Carpenter injury is part of larger issue in the bullpen. The consistency of what was once the best bullpen in the league and maybe all of baseball has been a major problem for Atlanta. Avilan has moments where he reminds us of the dominant reliever he was in 2013 when he recorded a 1.52 ERA and went on that ridiculous scoreless streak. But he’s still carrying a 4.70 ERA this season with a 3-1 record in 23 innings pitched and that isn’t helping the embattled ‘pen. Avilan had a 2.53 ERA in May, but his 5.40 ERA in June has risen in key spots when the Braves couldn’t shut down their opponent in late innings. At least his 5.40 ERA in June isn’t as bad as his 7.36 ERA in April? We need the old Avilan back. Fortunately for the Braves, Shae Simmons has been a solid relief option for them. In his 8 1/3 innings, many of them high pressure outings, Simmons has a 1.08 ERA with 8 strikeouts.

    The Braves and Nationals get underway today with Floyd (1-2, 2.98) vs. Zimmerman (5-3, 2.98). Friday will feature Minor (2-4, 4.42) vs. Strasburg (6-5, 3.06). Saturday’s game will pit Teheran (6-4, 2.31) vs. Fister (5-2, 3.08). And the series will wrap on Sunday with Santana (5-4, 4.12) vs. Roark (6-4, 2.85).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    Pitching continues to be story of Braves’ April

    If it is possible to quantify what starting pitching has meant to the Atlanta Braves in April, you won’t find it in a simple series of

    Aaron Harang leads the Braves and all of the National League with an 0.85 ERA. He leads teammate Ervin Santana by .01.

    Aaron Harang leads the Braves and all of the National League with an 0.85 ERA. He leads teammate Ervin Santana by .01 ERA points.

    numbers. Sure, the Braves have a rotation with a combined 1.50 ERA in a total of 138 innings pitched. Sure, the late spring signees Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana have unexpectedly brilliant ERAs of 0.85 and 0.86, respectively. Sure, the young guns aren’t too bad, either. Alex Wood has a 1.54 ERA, Julio Teheran 1.80 and David Hale a still quite respectable 2.93. But there’s more to it than the numbers.

    Remember when Kris Medlen went down during spring training? Remember how everyone thought the Braves were in serious trouble? Remember when Mike Minor wasn’t going to be on schedule because of shoulder soreness and the league wrote off Atlanta? Remember how devastating it felt when Brandon Beachy followed with his Tommy John news and then Cory Gearrin? Take those feelings, those fears and then consider just what has been accomplished without Medlen, Beachy, Minor and Gearrin, not to mention the continued absence of Venters:

    • Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana have the first and second lowest ERA by starters in the National League.
    • 4 of the 5 current members of the starting rotation are in the top 10 in ERA in the National League (Harang, Santana, Wood, Teheran)
    • 2 starting pitchers are in the top 10 in the NL in strikeouts (Wood T-5th with 35; Harang 9th with 33).
    • Braves pitching is 1st in the league in team ERA (2.16).
    • Relievers Anthony Varvaro and Ian Thomas both have a 1.69 ERA in 5 1/3 innings each.
    • With slightly more work out of the ‘pen, Jordan Walden (8 1/3 innings) and David Carpenter (9 1/3 innings) have sub-3.00 ERAs, 2.16 and 2.89.
    • Though Craig Kimbrel missed a week, he has a respectable 3.24 ERA with 6 saves in 8 1/3 innings pitched. His 18 strikeouts are the most by any reliever.

    There has been a bit of history made in April, too. In his Wednesday start, Aaron Harang became the first pitcher to start a season with at least 6 innings pitched and 1 earned run allowed or fewer in 5 appearances since Pedro Martinez did it in 1997. Also on Wednesday, the Braves recorded 16 strikeouts, the most by pitching in a single game this season and the most they’ve had in a game since August 16, 2013. In his previous start when Harang left his no-hitter, he became only the 3rd pitcher since 1900 to exit multiple no hitters after 6+ innings pitched. On April 16th, Julio Teheran became the first visiting pitcher to ever throw a shutout at Citizens Bank Park. And Craig Kimbrel hit 900 batters faced in his young career with a unheard of 44% strike out rate (392).

    With a week to go in the month, the Braves are approaching big decisions in their staff with pitchers Mike Minor and Gavin Floyd returning from rehab stints. Instead of hoping to bridge to Minor and Floyd’s return, the Braves now look at which of the solid starters could potentially move to the bullpen and what they do with Gavin Floyd altogether. The likeliest option is for David Hale to join the ‘pen, but that, too, leaves out an arm in the ‘pen that has been useful. The Braves now face a problem they couldn’t have anticipated coming out of camp: too many arms. But as these things often go, they tend to work themselves out before a decision has to be made. It certainly is a better position to be in for Atlanta then the one they faced at the start of the season.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch

    Braves take shortened series, head to Big Apple

    What was supposed to be their Achilles heel–starting pitching–has turned out to be the greatest strength in the early going for the 2014 Braves. The rain-shortened series in Philadelphia once again put the dominant starting pitching on display with great outings from Ervin Santana, Julio Teheran and Alex Wood. Unfortunately, the all or nothing offense was only able to notch one in the win column of Julio Teheran after waiting ’til Santana left the game to explode Monday night and offered no run support for Alex Wood in another solid outing from the young pitcher.

    Evan Gattis went on a tear in Philly hitting .667 while slugging 1.667.

    Evan Gattis went on a tear in Philly hitting .667 while slugging 1.667.

    Part of that all or nothing offense was Evan Gattis. In 2 of the 3 games played in Philadelphia, Evan Gattis reminded us of why he was one of the most dynamic hitters on the club last season. He hit .667 with 6 hits, 3 homers and 4 RBI with only 1 strikeout. Wednesday night Gattis put 4 hits on the board, a career high. He added to his superb career April numbers. Over 30 games going back to last season, Gattis has hit .303 (33-for-109) with 8 doubles, 10 homers, 23 RBIs, an on-base percentage of .342 and a .651 slugging percentage. Gattis has 5 dingers in his past 3 games at Citizens Bank Park.

    Justin Upton arrived in Philly the hottest hitter in baseball and the reigning NL Player of the Week. Unfortunately, his terrible road numbers weren’t snapped in Philly. At home, Justin is hitting  .591, with 4 diners and 8 RBIs (6 games). His road numbers are another story. He is batting .118 with a .211 on-base percentage (9 games).

    The surprise of the series was, of course, Dan Uggla’s offense. Where his defense stumbled, including a costly error in Philly’s game 1 rally, his offense made up for it. The highlight of the series for Dan was a grand slam in game 1 that capped a game-winning rally by the Braves. It was Dan’s second homer of the game. He and Gattis both notched 2 homers in that game. Uggla finished the 3-game series in Philly with 3 hits, 2 homers, 5 RBIs, 1 walk and 2 strikeouts. He hit .273 with an on-base percentage of .333 and slugged .818.

    With an all or nothing offense there are bound to be nights when gems from starting pitching don’t get rewarded with a win. Such was the case with both Ervin Santana and Alex Wood in Philly.

    Ervin Santana pitched 6 solid innings, allowing 4 hits, 1 run and striking out a career high 11. However, Luis Avilan game up 5 runs in relief that allowed the Phillies to rally and take the win out of Santana’s hands. In one of those strange scoring events in baseball, Avilan was credited with the win after the team rallied at the top of the next innings after he crumbled on the mound. David Carpenter recorded his second career save, his first save with the Braves.

    Julio Teheran’s brilliant complete game shutout was matched with a brilliant outing by opponent Cliff Lee who also went the entire game. Teheran went the distance allowing 3 hits, 0 runs and striking out 4. Lee, perhaps more dominant, went the distance while allowing 11 hits. The tipping point was the homer Lee gave up to Evan Gattis, the deciding run for the Braves. Cliff Lee is the only pitcher in big league history to lose 2 games where he has allowed 1 run and struck out 13 or more batters. Lee has had tough luck numbers against the Braves recently. In his last 2 starts against Atlanta he has pitched 17 innings, giving up 2 runs and striking out 26 strikeouts. Yet he has a record of 0-2. It was a great win for young Teheran for many reasons, but that he achieved it against the opponent he did is huge.

    A.J. Burnett threw 7 innings of 3-hit ball that resulted in no runs for the Braves. His 5 strikeouts were outmatched by the 7 K’s of Alex Wood. However, Wood’s 8 innings of 8-hit ball surrendered a single run that proved to be all the Phillies needed when the offense couldn’t get Wood any run support. It was one of the best outings we’ve seen from Wood in his young career.


    BRAVES, HARANG RETURN TO CITI FIELD…

    Aaron Harang spent part of the 2013 season with the New York Mets. In 4 games started with the club, he had an 0-1 record and a 3.52 ERA with 26 strikeouts (23 IP).

    Friday night’s game will be the first time that Jason Heyward will face Jonathan Niese since being hit in the face by a pitch last season, costing him a good chunk of the second-half of the season with a broken jaw. Heyward is 9-for-24 with 2 HRs against Niese.

    Freddie Freeman hits the Mets very well and has taken the place of Chipper Jones as the player with the most success against the club. Freeman is 9-for-27 with 2 HRs against Niese and over the past 21 games Freddie is 29-for-81 (.358) with 6 homers and 20 RBIs against the Mets.

    Atlanta hopes to have closer Craig Kimbrel back in their arsenal this weekend. Kimbrel hasn’t pitched since last Saturday due to shoulder soreness. Shut down, but not placed on the DL, Kimbrel has never had any type of arm soreness or injury before now. The Braves, playing it safe, gave the closer extra time to make sure he was 100% healthy. In a bullpen session Wednesday, Kimbrel reported no discomfort in his shoulder. In 5 2/3 innings this season, Kimbrel has allowed 1 run, has 12 K’s, and has 5 saves. He remains 10 saves away from tying John Smoltz on the all-time list of Braves with the most saves.

    The Braves will send former Met Aaron Harang (2-1, 0.96) to the mound in the season opener against Jonathan Niese (0-1, 3.46). Veterans Ervin Santana (1-0, 0.64) and Bartolo Colon (1-2, 6.00) will square off in the second game. David Hale (0-0, 2.89) will cap the series against Zack Wheeler (1-2, 4.67).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

     

    With series win, Braves head home to honor Hank

    As Bobby Cox likes to say, it’s the series wins that matter. That was the case over the weekend in the nation’s capital when the Braves took 2 of 3 against the rival Nationals.

    Wood was dominant in his 2nd start, dropping the game despite 7 innings of 2-run ball.

    Wood was dominant in his 2nd start, dropping the game despite 7 innings of 2-run ball.

    Lead by dominant pitching, the Braves once again proved that injuries to Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and now Cory Gearrin will not be the end of their season. Despite the loss handed to Alex Wood in the series finale, a tough one given his strong 7 innings pitched with only 4 hits and 2 earned runs allowed, Wood, Teheran and Hale were on top of their game. They continued a trend of not allowing more than 2 runs–a trend that started for the Braves on Opening Day in Milwaukee.

    Braves’ pitching as an entire staff is 4-2 with a 1.56 ERA in 52 innings pitched. Atlanta’s starters are 1st in the National League with a 3-2 record and 1.63 ERA over 38 2/3 innings. The bullpen holds a 1.35 ERA with 19 strikeouts, 7 holds and 3 saves over 13 1/3 innings pitched. David Hale and Aaron Harang share the lead among the rotation both with a 0.00 ERA. Hale pitched 5 innings of 5-hit ball in the Nats’ home opener. Alex Wood leads the club in strikeouts (9), on his heels is Julio Teheran (8) and closer Craig Kimbrel has made the most of his 3 innings pitched catching up to Atlanta’s starters in strikeouts (6).

    Atlanta’s bullpen may have lost Eric O’Flaherty to free agency and Cory Gearrin to Tommy John surgery as well as continues to wait for Jonny Venters to return from last year’s Tommy John surgery, but that hasn’t stopped them from supporting the efforts of the rotation. Luis Avilan, Craig Kimbrel, Ian Thomas and Jordan Walden have yet to give up a run and have 12 strikeouts between them in 7 innings pitched. In the 1st game of the Washington series, David Carpenter put together one of the best innings of relief we’ve seen so far, striking out 3 after allowing a hit and walk in an inning of work. Carpenter is settling into his role in the ‘pen with the returning relief core (Avilan, Kimbrel and Walden) and the rookies (Schlosser and Thomas). In addition to whatever moves take place with Santana, Minor and Floyd joining the club soon, the Braves went out and snagged Pedro Beato off the waiver wire from the Cincinnati Reds. Beato has a career 4.26 ERA. The 2014 season is his 4th in the big leagues, spending a year with the Orioles, 2 years with the Mets and 1 with the Red Sox, though he has only 25 1/3 innings under his belt. What his role will be is still unclear.

    The biggest concern coming into the season may have been pitching, but that concern has mostly been answered. With strong outing from each of the 4-man rotation and with Santana and Minor joining the rotation soon, the only question is who will be dropped from the rotation or if the Braves will go with a 6-man rotation for any length of time. With pitching mostly settled, the focus turns to offense. With far too many low-scoring games to start the season for a team with the bats of Chris Johnson, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton, the Braves have to wonder when this team will click. In the 2nd game of the series in D.C., the Braves looked most like the team they are on paper. Freeman, both Uptons, Johnson and Teheran each put 2 hits on the board in that game with Doumit (1), Uggla (2), Simmons (1) and Teheran (1) contributing RBIs.

    Not surprisingly, Freddie Freeman leads Atlanta’s offense with a .400 batting average with 8 hits, 2 homers and 2 RBIs. Freeman also has walked 6 times, his on-base percentage now .560. Behind Freeman is Chris Johnson at .304 with 3 doubles. a homer and 2 RBIs. Andrelton Simmons is hitting .300 with 6 hits, 1 double and 2 RBIs.

    The parts of the offense that everyone seems to be watching closely are the very parts that failed last season. The Braves’ strikeout rate is already of concern. B.J. Upton has 11 strikeouts in 25 at-bats, Justin Upton has 10 in 22 at-bats and Jason Heyward has 8 in 23 at-bats. B.J. is 3-for-25 with 1 double and 1 stolen base, hitting .120. At this point of the season, we can hope that Upton is simply off to a slow start. Dan Uggla is 5-for-23  with a .217 average thus far with 2 doubles and 3 RBIs. Uggla has only 5 strikeouts, but has yet to have a walk. Of course after last season there will be extra scrutiny on B.J. and Uggla. However, the early take on the two hitters is that Uggla is hitting the ball hard, but suffering from bad luck with the placement of the fielders. B.J., on the other hand, seems lost at the plate. Evan Gattis also appears to be off to a slow start with a .167 average. Gattis is 2-for-12 with 1 homer, 1 RBI and 6 strikeouts.

    BRAVES RETURN FOR HOME OPENER & TRIBUTE TO HAMMERIN’ HANK…

    New acquisition Aaron Harang will make his home debut in the Braves’ home opener at Turner Field, but the man of the hour will not be any current Atlanta Brave. It will, of course, be Henry Louis Aaron, the Braves home run leader and the man for whom the Braves are wearing a 715 patch on their uniforms this season. Tuesday marks the 40th anniversary of Aaron’s 715th home run, surpassing then home run leader Babe Ruth. The Braves are pleased to put the spotlight on Aaron in their first game at home of the 2014 season.

    The Mets are off to a 2-4 start. Their pitching is 13th in the National League with a 4.75 ERA. The Mets’ bullpen is dead last in the league with a 6.75 ERA. New York’s offense is also dead last in the NL in batting average at .178. However, they have scored 6 runs more (21) than the Braves (15).

    Some offensive stats to keep in mind as the Braves host the Mets: Dan Uggla is 2-for-5 against Zack Wheeler with a .400 batting average, a double, a homer and 2 RBIs. Freddie Freeman is 4-for-6 with a .667 with a homer and RBI. B.J. Upton is 1-for-3 (.333) against Wheeler and is one of the few Braves with any experience with Bartolo Colon. Upton is 7-for-23 against Colon with a double, a triple, a homer and 5 RBIs.

    The Mets will send Bartolo Colon (0-1, 4.50) to the mound against Aaron Harang (1-0, 0.00) Tuesday. Zach Wheeler (0-1, 4.50) will toe the rubber against Ervin Santana (0-0, -.–) in his 2014 debut Wednesday. Jennry Mejia (1-0. 1.50) will face off against David Hale (0-0, 0.00) in the series finale Thursday.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    Braves take opening series, on to DC

    With pitching, particularly starting pitching, the biggest concern for the 2014 Atlanta Braves, the opening series on the road against the Milwaukee Brewers showed a rotation that can likely hold on until the cavalry arrives in mid to late April. Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and new Brave Aaron Harang stepped up for the team and proved that they can certainly hold their own until Mike Minor, Erwin Santana and Gavin Floyd join the team.

    Aaron Harang made his Braves debut Wednesday, pitching into the 7th inning without allowing a hit.

    Aaron Harang made his Braves debut Wednesday, pitching into the 7th inning without allowing a hit.

    The Braves leave Milwaukee with 2 out of 3 games in the win column. The rubber match of the series saw the first start of Aaron Harang in a Braves’ uniform. Harang stepped up in a big way, pitching 6 2/3 no-hit innings against Matt Garza who was equally impressive until giving up a solo homer to Chris Johnson. Harang surrendered only 2 hits in his outing, walking 1 and striking out 3. His outing was supported by only 2 hits by his teammates against new Brewer Matt Garza and 1 off the bullpen. One of those hits was a 2-out solo homer by third baseman Chris Johnson that proved the deciding run of the game. In addition to Harang’s brilliant debut, Craig Kimbrel secured his second save of the young season. For their part, the defense was solid behind Harang including 2 incredible plays by Jason Heyward in right field.

    Harang’s dazzling outing came on the heels of Alex Wood’s 2014 debut. Wood was asked to step up in the wake of injuries to Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen and Mike Minor. Wood, in the second slot of the rotation, did as he had throughout spring camp by shutting down Brewers’ hitters. With the exception of a first pitch solo homer given up to Carlos Gomez, Wood was solid. He allowed 5 hits, 1 earned run and 3 walks in 7 innings.

    In the second game of the series, the offense stepped up with power behind Alex Wood’s solid outing. Jason Heyward launched a homer off Kyle Lohse in the 5th inning and Freddie Freeman, continuing the torrid offense he put on display in camp, launched 2 homers–the first off Lohse in the 6th inning and then following up with his second off Duke in the 8th inning. Also contributing an RBI was Andrelton Simmons with a sacrifice. Dan Uggla, hoping to have reset himself over the winter, hit 2 doubles in the game, showing that he is much quieter in the batter’s box and is no longer swinging for the fences with every pitch. Wrapping up the 5-2 win over the Brewers was closer Craig Kimbrel with a 3-strikeout save.

    Of the 3 starting pitchers, Opening Day starter Julio Teheran fared the worst, though his outing was just as much affected by a complete lack of offense from his teammates as it was by his pitching. Teheran went 6 innings, giving up 7 hits, 1 walk and 2 earned runs while striking out 2. Teheran lobbed 55 strikes of his 84 pitches. His control did not seem to be as sharp as we had seen in spring training, but this could be chalked up to Opening Day jitters, the responsibility of being the Opening Day starter or the self-imposed pressure that comes with a big offseason contract.

    After Teheran’s 6 innings, rookies Ian Thomas and Gus Schlosser made their big league debuts. Thomas allowed a hit in the 1/3 inning pitched. Schlosser fared better going 1 2/3 perfect innings with 1 strikeout.

    The team went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and left 7 men on base in the opener.

    BRAVES BEGIN WEEKEND SERIES IN NATION’S CAPITAL…

    In the span of 7 days, the Atlanta Braves will have participated in 3 home openers including their own at Turner Field. The second home opener they’ll play in will be that of rival Washington Nationals in D.C. Friday night. After a day off Thursday, the Braves will face the Nats in a 3-game series.

    Tanner Roark will be making the Friday afternoon start in the spot of Doug Fister who was placed on the disabled list by the Nats. Roark and rookie Jordan pitched very well at spring training, but there was only one rotation spot to be had. In the end, new manager Matt Williams was not forced to choose between them due to the injury to Fister. Roark went 7-1 with a 1.51 ERA last season for the Nats. Roark went 1-0 with a 3.29 ERA in 13 2/3 innings in camp.

    Stephen Strasburg is fresh off a tumultuous start against the Mets on Opening Day where he struck out 10 batters while giving up 4 earned runs on 5 hits and 2 walks. The Nationals pulled out that game in 10 innings after the Mets’ bullpen collapsed and gave up 5 runs.

    As is often noted when the Braves face off against Strasburg, Dan Uggla has the best numbers against the fireballer. in 30 plate appearances Uggla has a .407 batting average (.467 on-base percentage, .704 slugging) with 11 hits, 2 doubles, 2 homers, 3 walks and 8 RBIs. Another Brave with outstanding numbers against Strasburg is the hot hitting Freddie Freeman. Freeman holds a .417 batting average against Strasburg in 21 plate appearances with 7 hits and 6 RBIs.

    Jordan, Sunday’s starter, had a strong spring going 2-2 with a 3.92 ERA in 20 2/3 innings pitched. Last season with the Nats, Jordan recorded a 3.66 ERA in a limited 51 2/3 innings. Jordan led all Washington pitchers in spring training, including Strasburg, with 20 strikeouts.

    The Braves will continue their 4-man rotation in D.C., sending rookie David Hale (0-0) to the mound Friday afternoon against Tanner Roark (0-0). Saturday’s night game pits Julio Teheran (0-1, 3.00) against Stephen Strasburg (0-0, 6.00). The final game of the series Sunday features Alex Wood (1-0, 1.29) and Taylor Jordan (0-0).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.