Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Braves Report Card: First Quarter Grades

First quarter grades are in!

It's hard to believe we are 1/4th of the way through the MLB season.  Here are my grades for the Braves so far:

Offense:   B-
Some people would say this is a little too high, because the Braves are in the bottom 10 in batting average, but the offense has really come through in the clutch.  The Braves are in the top 5 in BA with runners in scoring position and 9th in the league in runs scored.  Jason Heyward was off to a great start before a minor injury and Martin Prado should be an all-star, even after moving to the outfield.  Eric Hinske has been clutch off the bench and David Ross has been equally productive on Brian McCann's off days. 

Despite the low average, the Braves are getting some bang for their buck at the plate.  They are 3rd in MLB with 47 homers already, and it is a distinct possibility that they could have 6 players with 20+ HRs this year.  I expect for the offense to produce even more in the next month or so.  If only Chipper could stay healthy...

Good Surprises:  Eric Hinske, David Ross, Nate McLouth (Don't Hate!)
Bad Surprises:  Dan Uggla (has some big HR, but inconsistent at the plate)

Pitching:  A
I think most expected the Braves to have a good pitching staff, but even I've been surprised with how well the bullpen has performed, especially after last year's set-up guy, Peter Moylan, went down with a back injury.  The Braves are 2nd in the league with a 2.88 ERA and lead the league in strikeouts, shutouts AND batting average against!  Opponents are only hitting .218 against the Braves so far.

The combination of Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel in the 7th, 8th and 9th has made the starters' job that much easier, and could be the best back-end in the league.  The only reason I don't give the Braves an A+ so far is the fact that Kimbrel has blown 4 saves already, even though that could be expected from a rookie closer.  My preseason prediction for blown saves for Kimbrel was 10, but he is on pace to go above that, which could really hurt in the stretch run later in the season. 

Good Surprises:  Jair Jurrjens, Eric O'Flaherty, Cory Gearrin, Brandon Beachy
Bad Surprises:  Scott Linebrink

Fielding:  A-
This is the most surprising area of the Braves for me this season.  Much was made of Dan Uggla's poor glove, but the Braves have been rock solid up the middle all`season.  The Braves have made 20 errors (6th in MLB) and 3 of those were in one bad loss to the Nationals.  Uggla and Gonzalez have proven to be quite a double play combo, but Freddie Freeman has saved the infield on multiple occasions with his scoops at first.

Good Surprises:  Dan Uggla, Martin Prado (smooth adjustment to LF)
Bad Surprises:  None

Coaching:  B
Fredi Gonzalez has done a good job filling Bobby Cox's shoes this season.  He finally cut his losses and moved McLouth to the 8th spot and Heyward up to 2nd, and he has done a god job managing the bullpen.  My only concern is that he may be overusing O'Flaherty and Venters early in the season. This is something to keep an eye on in the future.

Overall:  B+
Despite some hiccups in the bullpen, slow start at the plate combined with the Philles' hot start, the Braves are only 1.5 games out of first place and have the 4th best record in the National League.  If the Braves can avoid major injuries to more key cogs, they should easily be in the pennant race at the All-Star Break.

Braves at the moment: 25-19
All-Star Break prediction:  52-40

What are your grades for the Braves?  How do you see the next quarter playing out?

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