If the Braves lost on Sunday, I was all ready to proclaim this season our Götterdämmerung, but one shelling of the Mets and the inept Jose Lima later, I'm feeling better. (Speaking of Lima, the rumor is that the Mets are discussing a Barry Zito for Lastings Milledge trade. Speaking on behalf of all Braves fans, Omar Minaya, please make this trade. It's exactly the sort of trade that has been damaging the Mets and Yankees for the past several years: an established star about to enter the downward and most expensive phase of his career for a great prospect who will provide New York with the inexpensive, quality production that their lineup lacks [other than Mssr. Wright, who is apparently going to be the bane of the Braves until I'm 50]. I really hope that the tabloid pressure from a few bad Lima starts is sufficient to cause Minaya to overpay for Zito, whose strikeout, walk, and home run rates have been steady and relatively unspectacular for the past several years. And yes, I'm aware that these criticisms could apply equally to the Braves' acquisition of Tim Hudson, with the exceptions that: (1) Lastings Milledge is a better prospect than Dan Meyer was; and (2) the Braves got something of a hometown discount from Hudson, whereas no one ever gives the Mets a hometown discount. Getting back to Milledge for a second, the one thing that could scupper the possible trade is the annual Cliff Floyd vs. outfield wall match-up, which would force the Mets to promote and use Milledge. They couldn't be so dumb as to start Endy Chavez on a regular basis, could they?)
Where was I before the longest parenthetical ever? Oh, yeah, I was going to point out that the Braves are better than a 13-18 team because: (1) they've played a tough schedule, featuring a ton of road games so far; (2) they've lost a bunch of one-run games, which should even out over the course of 162 games; and (3) their run differential and that of the Mets are indicative of a two to two-and-a-half game gap, which means that when the teams regress to their means, the eight-game deficit will be a thing of the past. Ten games against the Marlins and Nationals on the horizon represent a perfect chance to narrow the gap back to a more manageable five- game margin.
The AJC was all over the Braves this morning. Guy Cutright offers a nice summary of what's gone right and wrong this year. He neglects to mention that the Braves have a rightfielder with a .241 OBP and no walks this season as something that has gone wrong, which means that he's either expecting that the rest of the season will consist of nothing but Sunday games against the Mets or he expected Francoeur to struggle so mightily. Cutright mentions Brian Jordan as someone who has gone right and as much as it pains me to admit it, I was probably wrong (at least based on a 31-game sample) if arguing that the Braves screwed up by keeping Jordan over James Jurries. Among the list of things that have gone wrong, the first two are going to change. As mentioned above, the Braves are going to get better in one-run games. In addition, there's no way that Marcus Giles is going to have a .302 OBP (.060 below his career average) for the rest of the year. The Braves caught fire last year when Raffy Furcal came out of a terrible stretch to open the year and this year will hopefully be no different.
Mark Bradley is wondering why the Braves "panick[ed]" and started Smoltz on three days rest against the Mets, as if they had a whole host of other options after losing a 14-inning game on Friday night. It was a game worth two in the standings (or, as they say in soccer, a six-pointer) and Smoltz only had to throw 98 pitches. I'd say it worked out OK. Smoltz's workload hasn't been too heavy early in the season and I'd worry more about him going 120+ pitches later in the year. I agree with the sentiment that we shouldn't worry too much about early results, but ten games would have been a lot to overcome against a good team and Bobby wasn't stretching much by starting Smoltz on three days rest.
Finally, David O'Brien tells us not to worry, but he only does so after mentioning that the Braves have struck out more than any other team in the NL and have fewer walks than anyone other than the Cubs and Pirates. Yuck. Personally, I think this is fixable. Marcus Giles is going to hit better. If Francoeur doesn't improve, then a Kelly Johnson/Matt Diaz platoon will further improve the team's BB/K ratio. And finally, if the Braves are still down by an appreciable margin in June and July and still have a first baseman with a .200 batting average and copious strikeouts, then Schuerholtz is going to have the relatively manageable task of filling a relatively easy position. The lineup seems fixable to me. The positions that worry me are closer, where Chris Reitsma is pitching as if it's already September, and the fifth starter.