Grading the Team: Week One
Starting Rotation: B+
The rotation has been a breath of fresh air after the struggles this part of the team went through last year. Through seven games, Atlanta's starters have combined to go 3-0 with a 2.33 ERA and 27 strikeouts to only ten walks in 32.1 innings. That walk total is not a mistake. Braves starters have only allowed ten walks in seven starts this season. By comparrison, that is only one more than both Daniel Cabrera and Matt Cain, two more than Chris Young, and three more than last year's AL Cy Young winner, C.C. Sabathia. Probably the greatest strength so far has been the long ball prevention. Atlanta starters have yet to give up a homerun and have held opposing hitters to a .280 slugging percentage
The one weakness so far has been the length of the starts. Even if you take out Jeff Bennett's four-inning spot start, Braves starters have averaged only 5 2/3 IP per start. That is due to mostly do to the durability of the starters other than Hudson, however Smoltz should be able to go more than five innings as we move forward. We're not going to be seeing Glavine, Hampton, or Jurrjens averaging more than six innings per start but it should improve as the rust wears off.
This has been one of the Braves' biggest weaknesses early in the 2008 season. The bullpen has pitched 27 innings so far, which is fourth in the majors behind only Florida, Pittsburgh, and the Cubs. The problem hasn't been control (12 walks allowed) or hit prevention (23 hits allowed). So far, it has been the long ball that has killed the pen as they've allowed five homeruns in only seven games. Most of that is a product of command problems from guys like Blaine Boyer, Manny Acosta, Chris Resop, and even Rafael Soriano. Balls up in the zone will kill you.
The only person that has really stood out so far has been Royce Ring. Bobby Cox has used him against six left-handers so far this season and the results have been one hit, no walks, and three strikeouts. He's certainly doing what he was brought in to do as a LOOGY.
A lot of blame has been put on the offense this season but it may surprise you to know that the Braves rank in the upper half of the majors in just about every major offensive category and are top ten in quite a few. The team is third in the majors in runs scored, but the problem has been consistency or a lack thereof. It seems like this team heaps it on in wins but just can't score enough in the close games. This isn't really a big worry though. Kelly Johnson is back at the top of the lineup and Mark Teixeira will come around sooner or later. The bench has also been a pretty pleasant surprise with Martin Prado, Brayan Pena, and Ruben Gotay all showing they deserve to be up here.
The defense has just been sloppy this year with the majority of that coming from up the middle. Yunel Escobar, Kelly Johnson, and even Martin Prado have been far too prone to mistakes in the field. Overall, the defensive hasn't been that bad but mistakes can kill a team and take away momentum. Expect to see more of this throughout the season with quite a number of fairly inexperienced players in the starting lineup. The outfield has been pretty good with their gloves so far. Matt Diaz is average but Kotsay and Francoeur make up an impressive duo in center and right, and the arms of all three are above average to great for their respective positions.
The errors really stand out, but this team has been at least average and probably a little better with the glove. It's a young team so these "rookie mistakes" aren't going to go away any time soon, however the team is above average defensively with at least average defenders at every position besides catcher.
It has been just over one week since the Braves began their 2008 season in the nation's capitol. Since then, Bobby Cox and the Braves have gone 1-3 against the Nationals and Pirates, have swept a two-game set from the Mets, and lost a close game to the Rockies. The sum of the first seven games is a 3-4 record and and a one-game deficit in the division. So far, we've definitely seen the ups and downs of this year's team, and this is how they grade.