The Braves are nine outs away from extending their winning streak to nine out in Los Angeles and I'm sure I am going to jinx their hit streak by writing about it, but holy hell? May just got better and better to the point that I thought I was watching the vintage, dynasty Braves. Those teams would usually let a division rival get its hopes up for a month or two in the season before crushing them in June and July. This year, the hot streak came a little early, but it has arrived in force. Moreover, after four straight years of mostly average baseball and then a forgettable April in which the team struggled to generate anything offensively, the hot streak is unexpected and therefore doubly sweet.
When bats were afraid in April, it struck me sorta funny that the team was so good at drawing walks, but couldn't do anything else offensively. It raised two possibilities. One was that opposing pitchers would figure out that the Braves hitters had no pop and would therefore stop walking them. The other possibility was that the Braves were just unlucky and would start hitting as a reward for being able to tell the difference between a ball and a strike. As it turns out, the latter has occurred. The offense has exploded in May.
Troy Glaus has been the bell cow (HT: Keith Jackson), knocking just about everything out of the park. He had a Hack Wilson May with 32 RBI after he looked for all the world like the white Mondesi in April. Now, if the team is healthy and Glaus hits fifth, he's preceded by hitters with the following OBPs: .336, .412, .392, and .383. Does that sound like a recipe for a power hitter to rack up a big RBI total?
As for the pitching, the most encouraging sign in May was the turnaround of Derek Lowe. After a month of baseball, Lowe looked like his career was in an irreversible decline, which is something of a concern with a player for whom the Braves are on the hook for two more years and $30M. Instead, here are his numbers for his last five starts: 33 IP, 9 ER, 19 Ks, 11 BBs, 0 HRs. OK, so those five starts were against the Brewers, Mets, Pirates (twice), and slumping Phillies. It's just nice to see that Lowe is not done. If he keeps the ball in the park, then he can get away with his low strikeout rate and be a decent pitcher. You would hope to have more than decent for $15M per year, but decent beats decrepit.
Other random notes on the Braves:
- I went to the game on Monday afternoon. It was a perfect afternoon. The weather was beautiful after a morning drizzle. The Ted was mostly full. The Braves jumped on the Phillies early and propelled themselves into first place. Chipper broke a long homerless streak. The only negative was that the crowd applauded after a montage of American soldiers who lost their lives in military conflicts. Seemed weird to me, but I guess that's what you get for a heavy moment at a baseball game.
- The Braves have a strangely unbalanced lineup. When Eric Hinske is starting, they have six regulars who have OPS+ numbers over 100, then a dropoff to Nate McLouth at 61 and Yunel at 55. Yunel is heating up and will poke that number up as he gets healthy, which just leaves our centerfielder as the weak spot on the team.
- Despite their great month, the Braves are still a game below their Pythagorean record. Moreover, the hitters and pitchers have combined to be 12.5 wins over replacement level, but the team is nine games over .500.
- Will ESPN even acknowledge the NL playoffs if the participants are the Padres, Reds, Braves, and Rockies?
- The Braves have drawn 241 walks. The next closest team in the NL is the Cardinals with 204. Moreover, the Braves have struck out fewer times than any NL team other than the Astros. This team collectively has a great sense of the plate. I credit Jason Heyward. Let's send him to the Gulf.