After a really, really impressive month overall… we end on a downer with two blowouts at the hands of the Marlins. It’s a dose of reality after some interesting performances over the first month of the year. Let’s review the month and grade the efforts:
Let’s start with the good part.
- Ervin Santana. [ Grade: A ] The introduction of an effective changeup has suddenly made Santana into more than just a viable rotation option – he’s been a force. 1.95 ERA for the month and 3-0 record over 27 innings. Just one homer allowed as well. He’s the second highest paid player on the club… and looking worth it.
- Aaron Harang. [ Grade: B+ ] Until last night, yes, that was an A+. But one poor outing out of six can’t diminish how he has held the rotation together while all around him were struggling to get back together. 2.95 ERA (increased by 2.10 last night) in 36 innings. The 3-2 record is a function of the offense, not of his own performance. Taking two no-no’s into the seventh inning keeps you in games until the offense can come up with something.
- Julio Teheran. [ Grade A ] Slowish start, but he showed a tendency to battle – even on nights without his best stuff. Julio had been matched up vs. the best of the opposing squad in most starts, yet came away with a 2-1, 1.47 April, 3rd in the majors in ERA. 43 innings already… that projects to something around 240. Could be a concern later.
- Alex Wood. [ Grade A- ] Similar words to that of Aaron Harang, but Wood’s story is more about the abject lack of run support. Being on the losing end of 2-1, 1-0, and 1-0 scores is a testimony about what’s wrong with this team right now… but it isn’t Alex Wood. 2.93 ERA in 40 innings, 2-4. If he can keep the ball in the park, he’ll be a star.
- David Hale. [ Grade A ] How can you complain about this kid? 25.2 innings, 2.10. Talk about having a helping hand when it was needed most – wow.
- Bullpen / Front End (Luis Avilan, Anthony Varvaro, Pedro Beato). . [ Grade C+ ] Avilan (C-) drags this grade down with his forgettable Philadelphia performance, but he’s had other moments, too. Varvaro (B) didn’t pitch much early on, but did ultimately relieve most of my own concerns about him. Beato (A) only appeared once, but was excellent in a pinch.
- Bullpen / New Kids (Gus Schlosser, Ian Thomas).. [ Grade B ] Both started with a bang; Schlosser (B-) faded down the stretch, and he’s about to be optioned to Gwinnett as the odd-man-out when Mike Minor returns on Friday. But his 11 innings were needed and were mostly good ones. Thomas (A-) was surprisingly good (no walks, 6 K’s in 5.2 innings) with a 1.59 ERA. He could be the next one to be shipped out (for Gavin Floyd), but he’ll be back.
- Bullpen / Back End (David Carpenter, Jordan Walden). [ Grade B+ ] 10.1 innings for both of these guys; 1.74 for Walden (A-) with a bunch of strikeouts; Carpenter (B-) a 2.61 while a bit more hittable. Walden’s occasional wildness prevented a solid A grade, but the strikeouts were nearly at a Kimbrel-esque rate.
- Bullpen / Craig Kimbrel. [ Grade B+ ] Is this grade the result of him not quite meeting incredible expectations? No – though it is hard to ignore 8 saves and a rate of 19 K’s per nine innings. No, instead the reduction is about the shoulder concerns and the 2.61 ERA along with a .444 BABIP that hitters enjoyed… when they actually made contact. When Craig got into trouble, he had trouble finishing innings. He also had 10.1 innings for the month, but threw a lot of extra pitches. That needs to be reduced for better effectiveness and longevity for the year.
Overall Pitching: A
- Carried this team in April
- Still the best ERA in the majors (2.59 vs. 2.82 for 2nd place Milwaukee)
- Best homers-allowed rate in the majors (0.49 per 9 innings)
26 games. 9 losses. 5 of those losses via shutout. Three victories were via 1-0 results. Two days ago, the Braves had an almost respectable (though smoke-and-mirrors created) +31 run differential. Now it’s at least more “real” at +16 — a lot more reflective of this offense. So… let’s grade that now. It’s going to be ugly.
- Freddie Freeman. [ Grade A+ ] Hitting .440 with RISP. Hitting .341 with men on base. Hitting .346 vs. left-handed pitching (.455 at home!). Six homers. OPS .965. Playing usual fine defense. All that while being pitched around since he’s the biggest threat in the lineup.
- Justin Upton. [ Grade A- ] Slow start, but as I pointed out a few days ago, he’s been a hot/cold hitter this year. Fortunately, he’s been enough hot to lead the team in average (.326), homers (8), RBI (18), and tie for runs scored with Freeman (17). The “A-” is because of all the “0-fors” in the first month, led by an alarming 31% K rate.
- Evan Gattis. [ Grade B+ ] He had been over .300 for most of the month before fading to .270 (Fernandez and Eovaldi will do that, though). Nonetheless, he’s done enough that I don’t see anybody writing blog posts entitled “Boy, I Wish McCann Were Still Here”… and that speaks volumes. Six homers and 13 RBI in shared playing time, too. He’s looking pretty good for 100+ games behind the dish.
- Jason Heyward. [ Grade C ] This isn’t a “D” grade because of his outstanding April defensive efforts. Jason has had occasional flashes of brilliance at the bat (2 doubles last night; 2 homers). But he’s got a hole in his swing that pitchers are exploiting, and until that hole is closed, he’s going to continue to struggle. Unfortunately for the Braves, having a leadoff hitter with an OBP of under .300 is not sustainable. At least he’s dragged his average back above .200, so maybe there is some improvement coming.
- Andrelton Simmons. [ Grade A- ] Continuing to exceed expectations. Fewer spectacular fielding plays so far, but hardly due to lack of effort. .289 with 3 home runs, and last night’s triple made the third of those in April. More walks would be good, but it’s hard to complain with only 3 K’s for the month (tied for best in majors).
- B.J. Upton [ Grade C- ] Again, defense saves this grade from being lower. His 11 runs scored is actually 3rd best on the team… his OBP is .288… and he’s got 4 steals. Other than that… 28.8% Ks, just 2 RBI, 1 HR and a .213 average. Not good.
- Chris Johnson [ Grade D+ ] .231 average and a .260 OBP means he’s contributing just about as little to the offense as possible. That stellar BABIP rate from last year? Gone – it’s now .303. Chris is just about as much responsible for this lethargic offense’s production as anyone in the lineup: his performance is roughly half that of last year.
- Dan Uggla [ Grade D- ] In Dan’s case, his offense is actually superior to that of Johnson’s – but it’s the horrid defense that pulls him even further down. That said, of Dan’s 2 homers and 10 RBI for the month, almost half of that came on one glorious swing in Philadelphia. While he’s shown teases of improvement here and there, the month is now done, and he’s sitting at .202 with an even more anemic .258 OBP. Clearly, the new eyes are not helping even his walk rate (5%).
- The Bench (Ramiro Pena, Ryan Doumit, Jordan Schafer, Tyler Pastornicky) [ Grade C- ] This is tough, but when I look at the averages ( .238, .200, .176, .143 respectively), these are not the numbers from the kinds of hitters that these guys can be. Granted: some of that is because they were pressed into service Tuesday night vs. Fernandez. Also granted that pinch-hitting is a tough task. But as a group, we’d hope for a little better.
Overall Offense: C-
- 5th worst team batting average in the NL
- 2nd worst team on base percentage in the NL (OBP)
- 7th worst team OBP-plus-slugging in the NL (OPS)
- 2nd worst run scoring in the NL
- 5th worst walk rate/NL
- Worst NL strikeout rate.
- 4th best record (17-9) in the majors (Brewers, Tigers, A’s)
- First place in the NL East … over the… Mets??
- No additional injuries (whew)
- Clearly, the team was carried by its pitching this month. 3rd worst in baseball in run scoring. This is simply unsustainable. No matter how much the Nationals or anyone else is floundering, this will not win a division. This has to improve… and quickly.
- Overall grade: B-. Hard to say that for a first-place team, but the weak April schedule allowed the Braves’ offense to coast. They did more than just coast, unfortunately, and it took a heroic effort for the pitching to will this team to those 17 victories.
Outlook for May
The offense had better get going – quickly. Six early games vs. San Francisco (1st place) and six more vs. St. Louis (second place) plus 3 more vs. the Brewers (best record in baseball). Oh, and a 4 game home-and-home split series with the Red Sox near the end of the month. The good news? Neither Matt Cain nor Tim Hudson will be facing the Braves. Adam Wainwright will, though (once, mercifully).
If Atlanta splits the month (14-15 or 15-14), then that has to be considered a success. But even if the pitching holds up, it could be ugly: you have to score to win, and this team isn’t scoring nearly well enough.
Can they do this? Yes – this is the same squad that rose to the occasion to beat up on the Nationals: 5 games out of 6 played. Now they need to play like that for the whole month of May.
Hang on fans, May is coming in like a lion.