48 games in, here's a Braves progress report
Hard to believe it has now been almost a full two months since the Atlanta Braves came through Pearl on March 30 and turned Trustmark Park into what appeared the smallest ballpark in existence.
Remember? First, the A-Braves launched several batting practice baseballs into the parking lot far beyond the left field fence and the bullpen behind it. Then, they continued batting practice in the game against their their most promising farmhands, winning 10-0 behind Mike Minor’s pitching.
My sentiment then: If there’s a better team in the National League than these guys, then I want to see it.
My sentiment now: I don’t think there is a better team. That last day of March has been an accurate predictor of the A-Braves power and potential.
You should know I have been Braves fans ever since I read Eddie Mathews’ biography back in the third grade and have been with them through thick and thin — and there has been much of both.
This spring, there’s been an awful lot of thick. Entering today’s games, the Braves are off to a 30-18 start, have won eight straight and lead the second place Washington Nationals in the East Division by 5.5 games. Only the pitching-rich Central Division St. Louis Cardinals have a better National League record, and they by one game.
As my wife would quickly tell you, I spent much of my time away from the office watching the Braves. I have some opinions as we head into June:
• As predicted on this page back in April, Evan Gattis has become the best story in baseball. He has hit 10 home runs in 125 at bats, one for every 12.5 at bats. (Babe Ruth averaged a home run per 11.76 at bats, by comparison). He seems to be at his best when it matters most. He can catch extremely well, play left field and first base. He possesses a compact, vicious swing and hits everything hard. Which brings me to this . . .
• Too bad Gattis can’t play second base. Dan Uggla continues to struggle, hitting .186 with nine home runs and 18 RBI, playing every day. Uggla has struck out 60 times, compared to 29 hits which is a ratio that would get him sent back to the minors except for his guarantee $13.2 million per year contract that unfortunately runs through 2015. It becomes harder and harder to remember that Uggla hit .287 with 33 homers and 105 RBI in his last season (2010) with the Marlins. If he were ever to return to that form, imagine what this Braves lineup would like like.
• Matter of fact, what if Jason Heyward and B.J. Upton return to the form they have shown in the past? The Braves’ record is remarkable, considering Uggla’s numbers and the fact that B.J. Upton is hitting .151 and Heyward is hitting .170. The law of baseball averages say those numbers are going to turn around (not so sure about Uggla), and when they do, watch out. You get those guys hitting as they should in a lineup that also contains Freddie Freeman, the other Upton and Brian McCann, the Braves will win the division in a run-away.
• The Braves bench is especially strong. Jordan Schafer is hitting .304 and contributing in multiple ways. Gattis… well, what else can we say? Reserve infielder Ramiro Pena is hitting .303 and fielding every position well.
• Shortstop Andrelton Simmons is worth the price of admission and a $8 beer to watch in the field. He mades hard plays look easy. He gets to balls that other guys watch.
• The pitching looks good. Minor is the biggest surprise, projected as a No. 5 starter but looking more like an ace. Closer Craig Kimbrel had a couple hiccups but his stuff is still filthy. I still love to watch Tim Hudson pitch almost as much as Greg Maddux. Almost.
I could go on and on, but the Braves still have 114 games to play. The season is still a puppy. Can’t wait for the rest.