The season has started off in disappointing fashion for the Braves. After winning the first two opening series against the Marlins and Mets, the team blew a ninth inning lead against the Nationals and lost the following day. It’s been downhill from there. The team has yet to win a series since the Mets. After 14 games the Braves are a .500 team. As a team the Braves are batting .246/.303/.391 (AVG/OBP/SLG) while allowing .259/.331/.403. The second set of numbers are pretty good, but not when combined with the first set.
The problems with the Braves are obvious. Beyond a little bad luck, the Braves are getting some bad play from some areas where problems should have been expected. Let’s take a look:
The bullpen has put up an ERA of 4.83, which is not good but not horrible. But unfortunately, the bullpen has actually pitched worse than it’s ERA with a FIP ERA of 5.15. The relievers have given up 5 HRs and are walking batters at a rate of 5.5 per 9. That is very bad. The Braves took the first step in to remedy the problem by releasing Tom Martin. It was a horrible move to take on such an expensive LOOGY who has never been anything better than mediocre. The money is huge, because the Braves are now out about $1.5 million that could have been used to secure a good bullpen replacement (lefty or not). But, I’ll give the front office credit for realizing their mistake and figuring out it’s better to pay Martin not to pitch than to keep him on the roster.
But Martin only threw 2 of the 41 relief innings this year. The problems still remain. Colon has struggled, giving up 2 homers and allowing a lot of hard hit balls. I once described Kevin Gryboski as a poor man’s Dan Kolb. It turns out that Kolb has been a very expensive Gryboski to start the year. For a guy with such a low K-rate, he has prevent the free pass. Bobby must pull Kolb when he walks batters. He’s walked 7 so far this year, nearly halfway to his 2004 total of 15. John Smoltz, please give Danny the number of your shrink. Danny’s been good for two years, and the Braves need him to return to form. I think a move to middle relief is part of the answer. Sosa has been about what I thought, lots of walks, Ks, and a homer. Reitsma and Bernerro have both pitched well. Kyle Davies needs some more time in the minors, but he may not get that luxury if the bullpen keeps this up.
Andruw Jones has been Andruw Jones. No signs of a break-out or drop-off just yet…but he’s already having his first slump of the year. But, who isn’t on the Braves?…Ok, Chipper and Giles. Unfortunately, Bobby decided for some reason that Andruw’s performance ought to be singled out among all the crappy hitting on the team and demoted him in the batting order. This is amazing, because while he won’t stick by Andruw he would never do anything to upset the situation with the corners. Jordan and Mondesi have not played well at all. Cox’s unwillingness to use Langerhans at all is infuriating. I wonder if Bobby makes him catch a cab instead of riding the team bus. What has Ryan done to deserve this? After a monster year in Richmond, he can’t even catch on with a platoon with golden boy Jordan sporting a sub-.600 OPS. And what has Ryan done in his 13 plate appearances? Well, he’s drawn two walks, gotten 3 hits, and hit a game-winning homer. Could this be fluky? Yes, but it’s not like the guy sucked in AAA. He deserves to split time with Jordan and Mondesi, and get a majority of it. In my mind, it’s the veterans who have to win their jobs back.
I really thought John Schuerholz made a good move by piecing together an outfield on the cheap by getting guys who can still be effective as platoon players. Well, I should of listened to all of you guys who said Langerhans would never get time with Jordan on the team. Bobby, it’s time to suck it up and give Ryan some more at-bats. What do you have to lose?
Putting it Together
The starters have been great, which makes all of the Braves play so far very frustrating. When the offense can’t score, the bullpen really matters. And unfortunately, the bullpen stinks. There have been a lot of people asking so which is the bigger problem, the outfield or the pen. It’s both. By not having a more diversified group of hitters, when the top of the order slumps the team loses because the pen can’t hold onto the game. But, the hardest problem to fix is the pen. There is no quick fix in the minors or in trades this early in the season. This still is not easy, but at least the Braves must get more offense from somewhere (Did I mention Ryan Langerhans?). And the way Kelly Johnson is tearing up Richmond, I’d prefer to see him in Atlanta than Pete Orr. Johnson can play both infield and outfield, and he can hit with power. He’s batting .348/.444/.630 in Richmond with a delicious walk-rate of 15%. I want him in Atlanta, and I want him now. He might need to be sent back down again, but he won’t do worse than Pete Orr (who is not embarrassing himself).
Overall, I’m not too worried, but I think the Braves should have a better record with the team they have assembled. I just hope those few blown games don’t come back to haunt the team in the fall.