The Atlanta Braves are one of the more intriguing teams in baseball this season. In the seven games they’ve played to open their new diamond palace, SunTrust Park, the Braves revealed glimpses of every conceivable scenario of how their season could turn out. They went crazy during a four-game sweep of the San Diego Padres, scoring 23 runs against the lowly Padre pitchers while only giving up ten. Then they were outscored 20-7 when hosting the NL East division leading Washington Nationals. Against San Diego, they were aggressive when it counted and resilient under certain circumstances. Against Washington, they were careless, submissive, and seemed over-matched. This opening stretch of games at SunTrust Park could be a great indicator of how the Braves will fare in 2017.
Atlanta Braves Post Uneven Stretch to Open SunTrust Park
Through fifteen games, The Braves offense has been as good as any in baseball on the stat sheet. In fact, Atlanta has had one of the best offenses in the National League since last August. Nick Markakis and Brandon Phillips are routinely putting balls in play and getting on base. Ender Inciarte provided a surprising power display for five games, causing his batting average to rise over 100 points in a seven-game span. Then, there’s Freddie Freeman. He reached safely in twelve straight plate appearances, an Atlanta record. He leads baseball in batting average and on-base percentage, and is second in hits. Freeman is one of the top hitters in the National League and is surging to prove to be one of the best players in all of baseball.
With that said, what lies beneath the offense is producing the outcomes of ballgames. They hit into double plays with no outs. They strike out with the bases loaded in close games. Most importantly, they don’t score runs with ease.
The Atlanta offense features players who can get on-base, connect on extra-base hits, and drive the ball out of the ballpark. But when it matters, they fall flat. The Braves seemingly create opportunities every inning to score runs. However, more often than not, they leave runners on base, and their record reflects that.
Minus a couple of rough starts, the Braves pitching staff has performed admirably thus far. Apart from Julio Teheran‘s disaster on Wednesday night, the starters produced a 2.28 ERA in 39.1 innings at SunTrust Park. Julio pitched arguably the worst outing of his career Wednesday night against Washington, out of sync and uncomfortable with every pitch he made. Yet, in his first three starts, he was brilliant. Mike Foltynewicz also impressed early in his first full season as a Braves starter, although he still seems to unravel whenever baseball doesn’t go his way.
However, the key to the Braves rotation has been the veterans. Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, and Jaime Garcia have stuffed themselves full with innings pitched early on. They were brought to Atlanta to shred innings and save the bullpen, and they’ve done nothing short of that.
The Defense and Bullpen
Yet again, the pitching staff doesn’t provide the outcomes of ballgames. Atlanta has thrown out one of the worst defenses and bullpens in baseball this season. The defense ranks third-to-last in fielding percentage and defensive efficiency, which is uncharacteristic of this roster. The team is better than the stats show in the field, but their early record is indicative of their poor play.
The torn bullpen isn’t a surprise. One can look at the roster and understand Atlanta will produce one of the worst bullpens in baseball. Only closer Jim Johnson and young flamethrower Jose Ramirez have been consistent. There have been many walks to open an inning, many hits allowed, and many runs scored against this Braves bullpen. If the offense and pitching staff can get the game to the eighth with a lead, the lack of depth won’t be as apparent. But single-run leads in the late innings will never be sure things in Atlanta.
What the Atlanta Braves produced during SunTrust Park’s opening week is a great indication of how they will compete in 2017. Through their abilities to get on base and the resiliency of their pitching staff, Atlanta will win the majority of their games against similarly-situated competition. They will push for a playoff berth, which will surprise many people. When it is all said and done, however, they’re just not competitive enough to rise up with the contenders. They are capable of success, but not durable enough to survive.
Brandon Murphy writes about baseball for Last Word on Sports, and is the Team Manager for LWOS Atlanta Braves. Brandon lives in Murfreesboro, Tennessee and attends Middle Tennessee State University. Brandon is a life-long Atlanta Braves fan and forever a student to the game of baseball.