Well, this has certainly been an exciting first couple of weeks of baseball, hasn’t it?
For fans of the Atlanta Braves, things couldn’t possibly be going any better. The Braves have shot out of the gate to an 11-1 start, a 9-game winning streak, and a lead in the NL East, thanks in large part to a sweep of the Washington Nationals over the weekend.
The most impressive part about Atlanta’s hot start has been the manner in which it has been winning games – which is to say, in just about every possible way.
There have been some dominant pitching performances such as Paul Maholm’s three starts in which opponents have yet to push a run across the plate. There have also been offensive outbursts as the Braves have scored six or more runs in half of their games. Then there is the flair for the dramatic, as late-inning heroics have already keyed a pair of wins.
And this is exactly why the Braves are so dangerous.
Some franchises spend years rebuilding and retooling to give themselves the personnel to dominate a single facet of the game in hopes of overpowering or outpitching the competition. Through some great drafting and development, some good trades and a few free agent pickups, the Braves have made themselves a top-tier squad in every aspect.
The starting pitching — as usual for Atlanta — has been solid. The power (20 home runs in 12 games) has been devastating. The clutch hitting has popped up in places where it fell short in the previous two seasons. And on those nights where the Braves haven’t put games to rest early on, the back end of the bullpen has lived up to its billing as one of the best in all of baseball.
That is the mark of a team that can expect to play for a championship in October. So far, there has been no blueprint established on how to beat the Braves on a consistent basis. The only team to manage to get the best of Atlanta so far has been the Philadelphia Phillies, but sending a Cy Young-caliber guy like Cliff Lee to throw eight innings of two-hit ball just isn’t an option for most teams on most nights.
For those fans that are currently parked on cloud nine, there is definitely some need to try and take this start with a grain of salt. Not to rain on the parade, but the Braves aren’t going 161-1 this season. Heck, even historically great teams are going to lose 60 or so.
Other dark spots that have been covered up by all of the winning include Jason Heyward hitting just barely over the .100 mark, B.J. Upton having twice as many strikeouts as hits through two weeks, and Dan Uggla looking as though he’ll turn in a third-straight season with numbers well below his career averages.
But those are concerns for a team that isn’t the toast of Major League Baseball at the moment.
In fact, having that many guys struggling early on is — in the eyes of an optimist — just another reason to believe that the Braves have the ability to run away and hide at the top of the standings before any other teams hit their stride.
It’s still early. There’s no arguing that. Plenty of teams have started out just as well, only to fade off. Plenty of teams have struggled early on, only to go roaring past the early-season frontrunners.
There are all sorts of stats, opinions and concerns that fly around this early in the season, but for Atlanta fans, only one is worth noting during this current streak.
For the first time in nearly a decade, the Braves are the most feared team in baseball.
And if they keep up this level of play, it’s going to stay that way all throughout the summer.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.