So, with a quarter of the season already flying by, we have had a chance to get and idea of the 2015 Braves and what they are all about. Oddly enough, even without big time power bats and an All-Star studded roster, the Braves appear to be holding their own. Currently at 21-21, the Bravos are in third place in the NL East and 3 1/2 back of the Washington Nationals, the Atlanta club is just good enough most nights to keep you tuned in until the final out.
Other than Freddie Freeman, and possible A.J. Pierzynski, this season’s edition does not really have the one swing equals one run kind of power that gets you featured on Sports Center or Quick Pitch night after night. What they do have is a scrappy bunch of young ball players sprinkled with some salty veterans who somehow seem to know how to keep themselves relevant. To be honest, some nights I miss the three run homer by the good guys but truthfully, watching the line up drop in single and doubles and putting up a crooked number can be pretty exiting too. There is after all, a certain beauty in seeing solid contact being made batter after batter, even if sometimes those solid contacts turn into outs. At least the opposing team is forced to make a good play to record an out.
The pitching staff may be the Braves Achilles heel this season when all is said and done. Like the old adage, a team is only as good as it’s next day’s starting pitcher. So true for the 2015 Braves. Shelby Miller has risen to ACE status while Julio Teheran has slipped a bit but Julio can still hurl a gem or two with a fair amount of consistency. The number three guy is a still wet behind the ears young pup named Alex Woods. While Alex is not exactly the second coming of Sandy Koufax, he is a solid lefty who is still learning on the job. He still needs to learn how to put opposing batters away after getting them down two strikes but being more efficient and learning how to keep the ball off the sweet spot of the bat could help him get deeper into ball games and save the pen.
The fourth and fifth starter slots are still the most worrisome for the Braves. Mike Foltynewicz has a cannon for an arm but he still has trouble harnessing it and he is still working on the mental part of the game. He is another guy you fell fortunate to get five complete innings out of in under 110 pitches. There is no doubt he has the potential to be a great starter but as with every young pitcher, there is a certain amount of growing pains we have to deal with as he learns how to pitch at the gam;s highest level.
The Braves latest experiment at number five is William Perez. A native of Venezuela, he has served his time in the minors. While his debut as a reliever was less than impressive, his no decision against the Rays may have given us some insight to his mental make up . He refuse to give in or give up and with the help of his teammates, showed a bit of toughness when things were not going well for him. Perhaps it was the image of him spiking the ball after a nifty double play to escape an inning unscafted was the most memerable moment of his recent outing.
The Braves are still trying to piece together a solid bullpen. One that employs the services of Eric Stults and Trevor Cahill is not likely one to strike fear into the hearts of opposing managers late in games. I think we all got a bit spoiled after having the likes of O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel at the back of the line up. No everything is bad with the Braves pen, there are some solid players plying their wares in Atlanta this season. Jim Johnson and Jason Grille have both been pleasant surprises so far. Brandon Cunniff has been a very pleasant surprise. Brandon is another gem who was mined from the independent leagues once again proving you never know who is watching you play. Luis Avilan looks to be more like the pitcher we saw in 2013 than the guy who struggled in 2014.
That still leaves Ian Thomas, Eric Shults, Trevor Cahill and Nick Masset holding down the fort, none of whom makes us feel the game is won simply because they are in the game. Young Cody Martin is back in Gwennett for a little R&R after faltering of late. Over use can do that to a pitcher but as long as the starters are only giving you five innings a night, Fredi G has little choice but to call on his pen to try to finish up the game. That and a ball club that relies heavily on it’s main weapons to hold a slim lead because they are not typically bombing the opposing team with runs.
Going forward, the Braves are taking their first excursion to the west coast this week. Unfortunately, we all remember the disaster of last season when the Braves went out west and proceeded to lose all but one game because they could not muster any offense. The season was never the same afterwards for the 2014 Braves. Perhaps this trip will give us some insight as to who and what this year’s team is all about. Contenders or pretenders, stay tuned for the verdict.