The opening series of 2019 was a forgettable one for the Braves in Philadelphia
If you want to know how the opening series against the Phillies went for the Braves, all you have to do is look at one stat: walks. In the three game series against their division rival, Braves pitchers gave up 20 walks in 24 innings pitched. That mark is good for 5th worst in all of baseball, and of the 4 teams who have more only the Orioles (22) have done so in as many games as the Braves have played. As it turns out, the woes that plagued the pitching staff for all of 2018 did not magically sort themselves out in the offseason. Unsurprisingly the Braves dropped all three games against the Phillies over the weekend. being outscored 23-11 and giving up 8 HR to their hated rivals.
You might have predicted that Twitter would have been full of diatribes and accusations aimed at a front office that failed to adequately address the pitching situation in the offseason. Braves Twitter did not disappoint..
But never let it be said that Braves Twitter can’t rally around a common cause and come together in times of distress. At one point Sunday, Braves Country started changing their Twitter profile pictures to a picture of Tiger Woods with a stunned expression. Credit to Scott Coleman for getting this trend started:
Before long it seemed that all of Braves Twitter had jumped on board, to the point that beat writers were starting to take notice.
This was, without a doubt, the best thing about the weekend, which says more about the state of the game on the field than anything else. Starters averaged 4.1 innings pitched, relievers gave up more than a run per inning pitched, and our 1-2 hitters (Inciarte and Donaldson) are both hitting .091 with only 2 hits between them in 22 AB’s. Things could not have started worse for the Braves, who saw themselves exit the weekend with the worst record in baseball at 0-3 and last place in the division, behind the Marlins, a team that most analysts don’t even list when discussing the N.L. East.
It can’t be all bad, can it? Of course not. There are 162 games in a season, including 16 more with the Phillies. There is time to get back on track; all the Braves have to do is weather the storm of this first 3 weeks as key players make their way back to the team: Foltynewicz, Minter, and Gausman. So what positives can we take away from this first series?
The offense is going to be ok –While Donaldson and Inciarte have struggled, Freeman didn’t get that particular memo. He is currently batting .600 with 2 doubles and an OBP of .692. Dansby Swanson has put his wrist issues behind him and showing he can hit with power early, batting .333 with a double and a HR. In the first two games of the series the Braves scored 10 runs, which normally would be good enough for at least one win. Donaldson is going to get right, and when he does, those singles and doubles off the bat of Freeman are going to lead to even more scoring.
The pitching will get better – Of the 23 runs given up by the staff, 9 were given up by Shane Carle and Luke Jackson. Once Minter is reactivated, one of those two will surely be sent packing. Neither have options, so the chances of remaining in the organization are slim. Dan Winkler is poised to return to the team as well if and when Anthopoulos decides to make a move. By all accounts Minter should be ready to rejoin the Braves as early as Thursday, and Mike Foltynewicz could be back as soon as April 14th. Gausman will return to the rotation on Friday, which should bump Wilson out and back to the pen where he can be most effective.
Kids are going to be inconsistent – Fears surrounding the performances of Bryce Wilson and Kyle Wright are a bit premature. Young pitchers are notoriously volatile from game to game and, too often, from inning to inning. Wilson had zero feel of his slider in his start, turning him into a two pitch pitcher, and Wright lost the ability to grip the ball effectively in the bitter cold in his appearance. Wilson might end up being better suited to a bullpen role, but Wright has the pure stuff to stick in the rotation. There will be games like Sunday’s where he can’t find the zone, but there will also be games where he is practically unhittable. It was poor timing for him to have control issues after dropping the first two games of the series, but there is plenty to be excited about with his 95+ MPH cutting fastball and wipe-out slider.
On to the next one
Thankfully, the Braves come home today to open SunTrust Park against the Cubs. Chicago managed to take one game against Texas, and like the Braves the offense was not the problem. The Braves currently hold the 3rd worst ERA in baseball, and the Cubs have the 4th worst. The bullpen production, or lack thereof, for both teams is almost identical. This is the perfect time for the Braves to get right and get out of the basement, especially with the Phillies taking on Washington starting Tuesday.
A brutal start to the season, no doubt, but there is hope. Reinforcements are on the way, and there are plenty of head to head games left with Philly to even the score. Now is not the time to panic, not yet anyway. It’s on to the next one, let’s beat those Cubbies! Go Braves!