A baseball week is a tiny sample size, but for the 2017 Atlanta Braves, this Week No. 1 offered an encouraging sign. Their starting pitchers rank the third-best ERA in the majors and the best among National League teams. Those starters have worked three quality starts in six tries.
Last year’s ever-changing rotation managed 64 quality starts in 162 games. Only five rotations generated fewer. Last year’s starters had the third-worst ERA in baseball. That’s why the Braves bought Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey and traded for Jaime Garcia. They wanted more good innings. One week in, they’ve gotten them.
And now a few less encouraging words: The Braves are 1-5. Julio Teheran leads the majors in ERA — can’t do better than 0.00 — but has seen both starts end in losses. And, once again, the Braves rank last in baseball in runs. They’ve faced some good pitchers — Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey, Cole — and haven’t scored much.
If there’s a positive in having scored the fewest runs, it’s this: They’ve hit the ball better than they did this time a year ago, when they as a team managed five April home runs. (They have five already, three coming Sunday.) Their OPS is .711, as opposed to .590 last April. This lineup should — should, I said — hit enough to be competitive.
The biggest issue of this admittedly early moment is the bullpen: It ranks last in the majors in strikeouts — 10 in 18 2/3 innings, which is not at all what you want — and clearly misses Mauricio Cabrera, who missed the last part of spring training with elbow soreness. When last season ended, the Braves believed that, with Cabrera and Arodys Vizcaino and the just-re-upped Jim Johnson and Ian Krol and Jose Ramirez, they had the makings of a nice end-game mix. Both Johnson and Ramirez blew saves Sunday.
The plan coming into the season: More good innings from the starters — and more offense from a lineup boosted by the late-season arrivals of Matt Kemp and Dansby Swanson — would mean more leads for the bullpen to protect. Two lesser starts by Mike Foltynewicz and then Dickey meant the Braves’ relievers didn’t have a lead to hold in the first two games in Pittsburgh, and when they got one Sunday they threw it back (twice).
Ergo, 1-5. In the grand scheme, it’s not a terrible 1-5. A year ago they were 0-5 after one week, soon to be 0-9 and then 4-17. Can’t see that happening this April. But I’ve been wrong a time or two.