Display of depth much more telling than the results of the season’s first week
Unless a player does something incredible like hit six home runs in his first seven games, statistics are essentially useless through the regular season’s first week.
It has certainly been encouraging to see Paul Maholm complete 12 2/3 scoreless innings through his first two starts. But to say he is destined for a Cy Young season would be as foolish as to have predicted he was destined for the Minors when he allowed six earned runs in both of his first two starts last year.
Jason Heyward certainly did not want to begin this year with just two hits in his first 24 at-bats. But to assume he is doomed to fail this year would be as foolish as it would have been to target him as an MVP candidate when he hit seven home runs during the first month of his miserable 2011 season.
B.J. Upton has hit .120 (3-for-25) through the first seven games of his Atlanta career. He reached base in just one of his first 16 plate appearances. But he has also been on base in six of the 14 plate appearances he has garnered since moving into the leadoff spot.
What does this mean? Not much more than the fact that he struggled through the first four games of the season.
Despite the first-week struggles experienced by Heyward and Upton, the Braves own a Major League-best 6-1 record. Like there was no reason to panic when they lost their first four games during last year’s 94-win season, there is not much reason to get overly excited about this season’s early results.
But we have already gotten a glimpse of the valuable depth this year’s team possesses. This is something to get excited about when factoring in the inevitable uncertainties that await over the next six months.
Sure the Braves have taken advantage of a once-proud Phillies pitching staff and the opportunity to play the Cubs and Marlins. But the degree of difficulty in these games has been increased by the fact that they have gone through a portion of this stretch without the guys they put in the leadoff and cleanup spots on Opening Day.
When Andrelton Simmons missed the final two games of this past weekend’s series against the Cubs, B.J. Upton proved effective in the leadoff role and Ramiro Pena delivered two clutch hits while providing solid defense at the shortstop position.
As Freddie Freeman misses at least the next two weeks with an oblique strain, Chris Johnson will handle the first base duties and Evan Gattis will assume most of the responsibilities in the cleanup spot.
Just two weeks ago, Gattis did not know whether he would begin the year at the Major League level. Now he is hitting cleanup for the club that owns the best record in the Majors.
Other than saying Gerald Laird will serve as Julio Teheran’s primary catcher, Gonzalez has not indicated exactly how he will split time with Laird and Gattis until Brian McCann returns. But it has become apparent that Gattis will get a majority of the playing time in McCann’s absence.
Much of the preseason excitement surrounding the Braves centered around their potentially-potent offense. But without Justin Upton hitting six home runs through his first 26 at-bats, this offense would be rather pedestrian right now. The 33 runs they have scored ranks sixth in the NL.
Despite straining his oblique the day before the season started, Freeman hit .412 and drove in seven runs before the Braves opted to take the cautious route by placing him on the disabled list. His production at first base has been compensated by the presence of Johnson and third baseman Juan Francisco, who join Gattis as the only active Braves not named Justin Upton to be hitting .300.
Over the course of the next week, Justin Upton could go cold while his older brother B.J., Heyward and Dan Uggla carry the load. That is where the strength of this year’s club sets. Never will all the players be clicking on all cylinders at the same time. But this lineup contains enough dangerous threats to assume there won’t be many stretches where this offense struggles as a whole.