So week two of the Braves season has passed and they weren’t too bad. They were 6-0, sweeping the Marlins (as expected) and the Nationals (not so expected). The total score differential last week is absolutely insane. The Braves outscored the two teams 32-7 in those 6 games. There’s really no question about how good this offense is going to be. I went over what to look for offensively last week and not much has changed. It’s really going to be a fun team to watch, especially when Heyward, BJ Upton, and Simmons begin hitting like they are capable (all 3 had good games today), and when they get McCann and Freeman back off the DL. However, I want to focus on the pitching this week.
The Braves pitching unit has been virtually lights out so far this season. Paul Maholm has been arguably the hottest pitcher in baseball. In 3 starts, he’s 3-0 with an ERA of 0.00. Opponents are hitting a ridiculous .153 against him and he has a 20/5 strikeout to walk ratio. He’s the first Braves pitcher ever to start 3-0 with an ERA of 0.00. He’s certainly not someone that has traditionally been a dominant pitcher but he’s never been on a very good team, coming from the Cubs and Pirates. He’s a really exciting player to watch, and really looks like a Tom Glavine type pitcher on the mound.
Mike Minor has been off to a hot start as well. He’s 2-0 with an 11/1 strikeout to walk ratio. His ERA is a low 0.69. He’s another lefty that, after almost being sent down to the minors around July of last year, has turned the corner and been pitching lights out ball. Tim Hudson is trying to keep up with Minor and Maholm and is doing a pretty good job. He out-dueled Strasburg on Saturday and is 2-0 with a 13-5 strikeout to walk ratio. His only problem is age. Last season he seemed to wear down as the season progressed and he will more than likely do so again as father-time slowly creeps up. But lets hope he can continue swimming in the fountain of youth that he’s been in to start the season.
The two starters that haven’t had great starts are Julio Teheran and, shockingly, Kris Medlen. To start with Medlen, he has been having trouble with location and getting his off-speed pitches to move and locate as he wants. It started as he was tinkering with some different pitch types in spring training and apparently he’s lost some of his control of the others. I’m confident that Roger McDowell can help him get back to his old self and get things turned around. Teheran on the other hand, is simply going through some rookie growing pains. No one expected him to come out and be a dominate pitcher. He’s simply a 5th starter getting his feet wet in a major league roster. His struggles have come early in the game in both of his starts but he’s managed to limit the damage and keep his team in the game. The Braves have won both games that he has started, thanks in large part to the power offense. He’ll come around as the season progresses and as long as he isn’t costing them games, the Braves are going to give him every opportunity to take the hill every 5th day and grow as a starter. He’s certainly a pitcher that has the potential to be a #2 type starter in a rotation in the future but he’s going to have to learn how to face a major league lineup throughout the course of a year.
And that brings us to the bullpen. The Braves bullpen has been the best in baseball as expected. Craig Kimbrel is as dominate as usual and has 6 saves in 6 opportunities. Luis Avilan, Cory Gearrin, and Anthony Varvaro all have proven to be strong in their roles and none have surrendered a run yet this year, in a combined 14.2 innings. Jordan Walden and Eric O’Flaherty both have been strong arms and have solid starts, but not lights out like the previous 3. The Braves also recently made a trade to add Luis Ayala to the pen and he’s made one appearance so far and was perfect. He will serve as the “veteran presence” in the bullpen that Wren likes to have with so many young guys out there. Keep in mind, Jonny Venters and now Christian Martinez are both on the DL and will be strong options for the pen when they return as well. Don’t be too surprised to see the Braves make a move, perhaps trading O’Flaherty or Avilan. Avilan’s stock is sky-high right now so teams that are looking for some bullpen arms (several teams) could be willing to give up a decent piece in exchange for these two.
There’s no doubt about how good the offense is, but the pitching staff has been dominant. No one thought that they would be bad, just not as dominate as they are. It’s certainly fun to watch these guys pitch. One of the biggest reasons I think you see the added success is that they don’t have to worry about going out and pitching a nearly perfect game because the offense can’t score more than 2 runs. Knowing that they’ll probably be able to give up 2-3 runs and still get the W gives them the confidence to go out and challenge hitters more than they normally would and that’s led to some success. Let’s just hope they keep things up, Medlen gets back and track, and Teheran passes the learning curb and shows why he’s the Braves top pitching prospect.