We are now two weeks into the season, and it's fair to say the Braves have surpassed expectations with an 8-4 mark. After spending the winter months trading Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel and others, no one would've been shocked if the Braves came out as lame ducks on their way to a 90+ loss campaign.
Ninety losses could still certainly happen, but the early results have provided some optimism. Maybe the Braves won't be one of the three-worst teams in baseball, as most projections had them in the preseason. Or maybe they will be, and we'll look back on this hot start in a few months and laugh.
Here are some thoughts on the Braves so far:
Fredi Gonzalez is doing a good job with what he has
While it would probably take back-to-back World Series titles to get me in Fredi Gonzalez's corner, he has done a solid job given what he has to work with.
Let’s recap… Braves are projected to be baseball’s worst in 2015 at the following positions: 2B, 3B, LF and CF— Beyond the Box Score (@BtBScore) April 5, 2015
Lineup construction has been solid with Fredi properly utilizing guys with dramatic splits against righties and lefties; it's not a coincidence Jonny Gomes and Chris Johnson are off to promising starts. He's done a solid job splitting up time between Eric Young Jr. and Cameron Maybin in center field with the hopes of one establishing himself. Late-inning defensive replacements are routinely being brought in. He's stacking lefties against righty starters.
My only real gripe is a lack of consistent starts for Jace Peterson and Christian Bethancourt, but strong play from Alberto Callaspo and A.J. Pierzynski makes it somewhat tolerable for now. Fredi needs to start the young guys.
The bullpen is going to be dead by August
Three Braves pitchers, Luis Avilan, Brandon Cunniff and Jim Johnson, are all tied for the league lead with seven appearances already.
Andrew McKirahan won't be pitching anytime soon.
Juan Jaime has already been designated for assignment due to nonstop control issues.
There's a decent chance Cody Martin is stolen from the bullpen for the starting rotation at some point.
Sugar Ray Marimon probably won't last too long.
Jason Grilli is 38 and only has so much in the tank at this point in his career.
The bullpen has done a pretty good job thus far, but there are going to be problems down the road if the starters don't go deeper into games.
Nick Markakis looks healthy
The Nick Markakis signing was questioned at the time, and it's still a bit odd considering how the Braves' focus is on 2017. Markakis finally underwent surgery in December for a herniated disk in his neck, and while he didn't look quite right in spring training, he caught fire and tormented the Blue Jays over the weekend. He's been an on-base machine so far with a .475 OBP and leads the club in walks.
I've always felt the criticisms of the Markakis signing were a bit overblown. In today's game, $44 million over four years isn't outrageous for a player with his track record. This isn't a Dan-Uggla-like situation. We've got a long way to go, but Markakis has looked healthy and is already drawing praise from teammates for what he does off the field. He doesn't need to be a superstar to justify his contract.
The back end of the rotation is as bad as we thought
Granted it's only three starts -- this entire article is based off of small sample sizes -- but the 4/5 duo of Eric Stults and Trevor Cahill is going to be a problem. Cahill hasn't pitched well since 2012 and Stults is, at the very best, a decent No. 5 starter for a bad team.
Fortunately there's reason for optimism. Top prospects Matt Wisler and Mike Foltynewicz could see Atlanta sometime this season, with both likely to be better options than Stults or Cahill. When I asked ESPN's Keith Law if promotions from Gwinnett were likely, he said:
Both most likely. Wisler first. https://t.co/YGLnn7gnhL— keithlaw (@keithlaw) April 19, 2015
There's also the afore mentioned Cody Martin, who seems to be on the Kris Medlen path to the rotation.
The back-end is bad right now, but depending on how quickly the Braves want to promote Wisler and/or Foltynewicz, we could see substantial improvement this summer.
It's tough to learn too much about a team through two weeks, but this new bunch of Braves has provided reason for optimism. Then again, the 2014 Braves were 12-6 on this day a year ago. We all know how the next five months went.