Let the hysteria subside in the south’s capital city. All you folks getting ready to plunge to certain doom on the North Avenue overpass can come down now. The Atlanta Braves ship seems to have been righted for the time being, so everyone in Atlanta can exhale and get a grip on themselves.
It’s a funny thing how folks talk about how laid back and disinterested Braves fans are, yet if they drop three straight to the New York Mets to open the season (four straight total) you’d think that General Sherman was on the move down Peachtree Street again. Fans in Atlanta were in panic mode, calling for the heads of everyone from manager Fredi Gonzalez, to whoever the guy was that parked GM Frank Wren’s car last week. (And as I sit writing this, the Mets just put up 5 runs to go up 6-1 here in Atlanta…ugh!)
The initial signs of recovery for the Braves are good. They have started scoring some runs – thanks to the return of Chipper Jones and the awakened bat of Jason Heyward – and the starting pitching is finally getting deeper into games than the fifth inning. Both had been huge areas of concern during the first week of the season, but is it right to even get concerned this early? When you suffer a collapse like the Braves did last September, you’re darn tootin’ it’s right!
The problem last year was, nobody saw the initial signs early enough. It’s like the Braves were in the midst of having a mild heart attack in August, and nobody noticed until they were lying on the ground gasping for breath and screaming for paramedics in September. Oddly enough, the problems that plagued the Braves last fall are the same ones that had cropped up early this season. The inability to score runs, and the failure of starting pitching to go deep enough into games to give the bullpen some rest. With one of the best bullpen back ends in all of baseball, if Atlanta can get to the 7th or 8th with a lead, they will be awfully hard to beat.
The much maligned Derek Lowe may not have had the best win-loss record in the rotation last year, but he was one of the workhorse of the starters, giving Atlanta 187 innings pitched. With ace starter Tim Hudson out until at least May, and Lowe being traded to Cleveland, a couple of Atlanta’s other starters will have to really step up and start pitching into the 7th or 8th innings often. Getting Hudson back into the starting rotation will help, but even then there is no guarantee on how many innings the aging pitcher is going to be able to provide.
So Braves fans, rest at ease for now. Although the Braves are 0-4 against the Mets – a team projected to finish last in the NL East by just about everyone – they are starting to play solid fundamental baseball, and are doing the little things to help win ball games. Hey, things could be worse…Fredi Gonzalez could be questioning Chipper Jones’ commitment, and alienating his clubhouse. Yeah, it’s going to be a long season in Boston for Bobby Valentine.