Slowly the contributions begin to come together, slowly the parts begin to fit into wins, and the wins begin to add up to a contending team. But it starts with the individual contributions; getting on base, pitching out of jams, hitting with RISP, getting the save.
Edgar Renteria has done his part, hitting in every game, leading the league in batting at .354. Brian McCann is doing his part, fifth in thee league in batting at .337 and the second highest OPS (.900) among catchers in the Major Leagues. John Thompson has done his part, leading the league in ERA at an impressive 1.88, but with only one win to show for it. Andruw has done his part, ninth in the league in homeruns (9) and fourth in the league with 30 RBIs.
John Smotz and Tim Hudson and Kyle Davies are showing signs of brilliance and shades of dominance while helping the Braves to compile the most complete games of any team in baseball; and still there is room for improvement and consistency. Combined, our starters have had only 11 quality starts (Smoltz 4, Thompson 3, Hudson 2, Davies 2), and that could tell us why we have only 14 wins on the season.
But the Mendoza Patrol is still out there, evidenced by the loud strikeout totals; LaRoche (32 - .220), Langerhans (26 - .266), Francoeur (26 - .231), Giles (25 - .205). On the batted side of baseball, these are the four guys for the Braves that have to turn it around. The other four regulars - Andruw (.282), Chipper (.306), Renteria (.354), and McCann (.337) - have got it figured out so far. But the bottom four, if they can get it going - look out.
Francoeur has shown signs of turning it around, having hit safely in seven straight, including two homeruns and eight RBIs over that stretch. LaRoche may have broken out of it after being moved to the seventh spot in the order and having a 3 for 5 night. But Langerhans has struggled this month, hitting just .174 with no RBIs. Giles has shown signs of rebounding with two multi-hit games this month, but he still hovers just above the Mendoza Line with a .205 average. He has managed to get on base, compiling 17 walks and a .306 OBP. If he can string some hits together like Francoeur is doing, his ability to get on base and score runs will skyrocket, and with it so too will our offense.
Our bullpen has been better than it should be. The combination of Cormier, Ray, Villarreal, Reitsma, James, Remlinger, and Moylan have an average ERA of 2.65 this year, verses a career average ERA of 4.72 (their actual, combined ERA this year is 2.85). So they're pitching more than two runs better than they should be. Compare that with the averages of the starters who have an ERA this year of 4.35 verses a career average of 4.12. That tells us where the deficiency is, but even so, it's not that much of one. This is probably a good sign for Roger McDowell, who has crafted no-names like Ray and Moylan into solid contributors.
So, statistically speaking, what do all these bloody numbers really tell us? Do they tell us what we already know; that Giles is struggling, that Renteria is on fire, that the starters have not been that good, or that our bullpen has been better than most people think. Maybe they tell us that there's hope. That with a few more key hits and few more well-placed pitches we can turn it around and head up the standings.