This morning, the ATL is waking up to a 12-14 baseball team, which isn't great, but it sure beats the 9-14 record that was staring back at us on Sunday morning. When the Braves were losers of five in a row, I was trying not to let their slide bother me, mainly because the Braves were losing a bunch of close games (three one-run games, a two-run game, and a three-run game) and as the Nats learned last year, those close games tend to even out over the course of a year. Sure enough, the Braves have won three games in a row by a total of six runs and are back within shouting distance at five games back. The Braves are +3 in run differential, which indicates that they are what they always seem to be in April and May: an average baseball team.
26 games into the season, the villains on the team (other than Jorge Sosa, whose collapse from a misleading 13-3 2005 has been entirely predictable) have been Adam LaRoche and Jeff Francoeur. The Braves are getting nothing from two power positions and from two players who rank 4th and 1st respectively on the team in at-bats. Francoeur probably has a month to sort out his hacktastic hitting approach or else he's headed to Richmond and we're going to have a Kelly Johnson-Matt Diaz platoon in right. (Diaz has been disappointing so far, but we can't judge a guy on 31 at-bats.) LaRoche, unfortunately, is getting to the fish or cut bait stage. This is his third year as a regular and he's gotten off to a sterling .200/.304/.450 start, despite the fact that he's showed enough plate discipline to walk 12 times in 92 plate appearances. (How many of those walks are the result of Francoeur hitting behind him? The Rockies walked LaRoche last night in the 7th with two outs and a runner on second in a 4-4 game and the strategy paid off, as Francoeur struck out on five pitches and looked awful doing so. The good news for the Braves is that it's easier to find players who can hit and play right or first; it isn't as if they're trying to find quality catchers or shortstops on the market. The bad news is that they pretty much exhausted their farm system last year and their top prospects remaining (read: Jarrod Saltalamacchia) are off to slow starts this year in the minors. Scott Thorman might be an intriguing option at first, since he's hitting .318/.389/.506 for Richmond.
As for the pitching, the starters are hot right now, with the exception of Jorge Sosa and his buddy Kuato hanging out above his belt. (Speaking of which, it's pleasant to know that no one with any sense can look at the increasingly portly Andruw Jones and allege that his homer binge in 2005 and 2006 is the result of the cream or the clear.) Davies has the best peripherals on the staff right now, with a solid 27/9 K/BB ratio in 30 innings...if you ignore those seven homers conceded. (Insert stock "sample size" caveat here.) My only concerns are that Davies started off well last year and then tailed off badly and Thomson started off well and then ripped his ring finger open for no apparent reason. We also haven't reached Tim Hudson's annual Oblique Vacation. The bullpen is pitching reasonably well and we don't have to worry about Oscar Villareal's arm spontaneously combusting from overuse now that Hudson, Smoltz, Davies, and Thomson are all pitching well. I still don't feel good entrusting one-run leads to Chris Reitsma, but what are you going to do when you're not willing to play ball in the ridiculously overpriced closer market?
One other thought: I'm grumbly about the fact that the Bravo Club is apparently a thing of the past, which means no free schwag for people like me who go to 15 games per year. I'm also grumbly that last night, the Braves drew a smallish crowd of 22,000 and still, the ice cream stand near our seats ran out of vanilla ice cream, which seems like a pretty basic staple, especially on a warm night.
The good news is that I accidentally kicked a middle-aged Mets fan with a "Spring Break Panama City 2006" t-shirt on Friday night while scaling the railing between the concourse and my seat. I've never felt less guilty about kicking someone in my life.