This time last year, the Atlanta Braves were winless and Fredi Gonzalez’s job was on the hot seat. The 2016 Braves lost the first nine games and start 9-28 before management canned Gonzalez. This time, the Braves have one win and so far, there looks to be more incurable issues than last year.
So far, the Braves have three glaring issues. One of those is solvable as time goes on, the second is a problem that will likely persist as long as the 2017 campaign runs. The third is an issue that management is trying to address.
Everyone knew Adonis Garcia would be a liability on the hot corner, and his glove likely cost them a win in New York on Opening Day. Had he delivered a good throw to second, Phillips could have put away the inning on a double play. It’s only a week, but Garcia is unreliable with his glove and the bat has not been strong enough to make up for it. With only four hits, a .174 average and one RBI, his -0.2 WAR bodes well for Rio Ruiz’s eminent promotion.
Freddie Freeman’s inability to glove the ball, as well as Brandon Phillip’s costly errors, are of much more concern, given they have no history of playing like this in the past.
Dansby Swanson’s glove is as good as advertised, and his fielding percentage will improve as the season goes on. It’s one of the few guarantees on the Braves roster. Something notably concerning with Swanson; the few runs he’s produced with plenty of runners in scoring position. I’m not exact with this number, but in the games I’ve watched, he’s had at least eight runners in scoring position in a handful of chances. He converted none of them. His only RBI came on solo shot in Sunday’s heartbreaking blown lead loss.
In the game against Matt Harvey in New York, the Braves could not put quality at bats together. Except Matt Kemp. The former ‘MVP’ is stroking to start the season, becoming the first Brave ever, since 1913, to record six extra base hits in the first three games of the season. The night he went 2-3 against Matt Harvey with two bombs, the rest of the lineup went 1-19. Hard to win on the road in New York against one of the best lineups and rotations with one man producing in the batters box.
There are a number of other glaring issues with sloppiness, as R.A. Dickey mentioned after Saturday’s loss.
“We are sloppy right now. I think, to a man, anyone in here would tell you the same thing. We are playing pretty good baseball if we just tighten it up a little bit.”
The leaky Bullpen
In the league’s fifth lowest amount of innings pitched (18.2), the Braves bullpen has the seventh worst ERA (5.79).
After the horrendous Opening Day appearance against the Mets and the twice blown lead in Pittsburgh on Sunday, the Braves bullpen cannot get much worse than it’s been.
Eric O’Flaherty’s Spring Training magic has worn off and he’s still the lefty liability of old. After Ian Krol went the calendar year in 2016 without earning a loss, he took the L in game one. Jose Ramirez has not improved and the other bullpen arms have not held leads long enough to get to closer Jim Johnson, culminating in the Braves bad record so far.
The lack of depth on the Bench
In the opening series against New York, the Braves sent Emilio Bonifacio to pinch hit with the bases loaded and Jace Peterson with runners on second and third. Both situations produced zero runs. Peterson is a quality utility man and a good defensive replacement. He is not a pinch hitter. Bonifacio, at this point in his career, is a pinch runner and hardly a dependable utility outfielder.
I wasn’t the only one who realized that the Braves did not have a bat off the bench worth burning as a pinch hitter. Management soon realized they could not survive sending inconsistent slap hitters to the plate with runners in scoring position all season. So they went out and got a bat.
Not only do the Braves have 42- and 43-year olds on the current roster, but they have now signed 37-year-old Ryan Howard to a minor league contract. Yes, the same Ryan Howard that used to torment the Braves in red-pinstripes for the Philadelphia Phillies. Not the former Vice President of Dunder Mifflin Ryan Howard.
I'm excited and energized to get going and start this new chapter!!!!#atlantabraves— Ryan Howard (@ryanhoward) April 6, 2017
But what this move does for Atlanta….
Freeman on #Braves signing Ryan Howard: "He can still change the game with one swing of the bat…. And now he can't do it against us."— David O'Brien (@DOBrienAJC) April 6, 2017
It is certainly not ideal, and with Howard heading to extended Spring Training before Gwinnett, it could be awhile until we see the ‘Big Piece’ in Atlanta. And when we do see him, chances are he is more akin to the .196 average and 114 K hitter he was last year, than the 58 homerun MVP he was in 2006. If he can fall somewhere in between those numbers, he will be perfect. When Atlanta plays in American league ballparks, he is undoubtedly the designated hitter, a regular pinch hitter elsewhere and possibly an option at first, if Freddie needs a day off. His limited plate appearances will help keep him from getting exposed at the plate.
Also, I found these quirky stats interesting. The Braves have officially collected the premiere group of veterans that are clinging to whatever baseball career they have left.
Braves winning 2011 World Series pic.twitter.com/VBiAjyUaQQ— gaurav (@gvedak) April 6, 2017
The record is not much better than it was at this point last season. However, the room for improvement was also much larger last year. That does not mean there is no room this year, because there certainly is.
Are they at the ‘meddler’ level I predicted before the season? Not quite yet.
The sky isn’t falling yet. With a tough schedule ahead in the month of May, things will either go south, or the team will win a couple series, possibly some on the road and meddle with the playoff contenders.
May will be the defining month for the trajectory in the months following.
The Braves are in South Beach for a quick two-game series against the Fish tonight and tomorrow before they open up SunTrust Park on Friday against the Padres.
With Bartolo Colon on the bump tonight, I leave you with this glorious gif.
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