It’s Not This Easy
After completing their third consecutive series sweep with a 9-0 pummeling of the Nationals, the Braves now have a record of 11-1. Of course, they can’t maintain that .917 winning percentage over the remaining 150 regular season games. But here is a sobering thought for the rest of the National League - the Braves offense really hasn’t started clicking yet.
Centerfielder BJ Upton is hitting just .163 (though he was 3-5 today and hit his second homer of the season). Right fielder Jason Heyward is mired in a 2-32 slump that has dropped his batting average to a miniscule .103. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who hit his first home run of the year today, is hitting just .211. Second baseman Dan Uggla’s batting average dropped to .171 after going 0-4 today. He also struck out once, the fifteenth time he has done so already in just twelve games.
Just think when these guys get it going.
The Braves have also been without their All Star catcher Brian McCann, who is in Extended Spring Training working himself back into shape after his offseason shoulder surgery. They haven’t missed him much though as 26-year old rookie Evan Gattis has more than picked up the slack with his early coming out party. Gattis, nicknamed El Oso Blanco (“the White Bear”), drove in two runs today on his second double of the season to give him 10 RBI in his nine games played. His 1.120 OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) is good for second in the National League, behind only his teammate Justin Upton (1.306). When McCann does return from the disabled list, it will be interesting to see how the Braves adjust their lineup to get both McCann and Gattis their at-bats. That’s how far Gattis has come.
The roster move to accomodate McCann’s return to the active roster will also bear watching. Fourth (fifth?) outfielder Jordan Schafer is out of minor league options. As is lefty swinging third baseman Juan Francisco. The Braves envision switch hitting utility infielder Ramiro Pena as a poor man’s version of former Brave Martin Prado after signing Pena as a free agent this past offseason. Pena is off to a surprisingly pleasant start offensively with a .333 batting average. He even hit just the third home run of his career (in 360 plate appearances) to help the Braves take the opener of this weekend series against the Nationals. Catcher Gerald Laird would seem to be the odd man out as the Braves would probably not carry three catchers, but Laird is also off to a nice start, hitting .333/.429/.500 in his four games played.
The Braves will cross that bridge when they come to it. For now though, they are on a roll led by their pitching staff. The starters have allowed a Major League low .208 BAA (batting average against). Their ERA of 2.06 trails only the Cardinals (1.82) for best in the Majors, while their 1.05 WHIP is also second behind just the Dodgers (0.95). The bullpen has been even more penurious with a Major League best 1.30 ERA, a .182 BAA (second behind the Royals .176), and a 0.92 WHIP (second behind the Orioles 0.86). Reinforcements are also on the way with the return of reliever Jonny Venters possibly in late May or early June, and also starter Brandon Beachy possibly in late June.
Top: Paul Maholm, by Evan Vucci/AP
Middle Left: Evan Gattis, by Evan Vucci/AP
Middle Right: Andrelton Simmons, by Evan Vucci/AP
Bottom: Reed Johnson, by Rob Carr/Getty Images