If you listened to the players talk during Spring Training, you might have believed the new-look Atlanta Braves weren’t going to be as lousy as the experts predicted.
And while it’s a very small sample size when compared to a 162-game season, the 5-0 start we’ve seen from the Braves is pretty cool. They hit the ball better than last year’s team, and even though there aren’t a lot of household names on the roster, they’ve been more fun to watch in the first week than the 2014 Braves were at any point a year ago.
Let’s take a deeper dive into this team’s success. Here’s why they’ve yet to lose a game.
Their pitching has been filthy
The pitching staff has been nothing short of masterful so far, and when a team pitches well, they win a lot. Their 1.40 ERA is tied for the best in the entire league, and batters are hitting just .194 against the Braves.
A bullpen that was supposed to be weak has dominated in the late innings through five games. They’ve yet to give up a run and have only allowed three walks while recording 21 strikeouts. They’ve thrown a total of 18 innings so far and have been deadly in all 18, going after batters and throwing lots of strikes – exactly what a successful bullpen should do.
Left-handed reliever Jim Johnson has been the perfect set-up man for closer Jason Grilli. The pair has shut down late rally attempts with ease, combining for four saves in five games, tied for the best in the league.
The starting staff, expected to be slightly above-average at best, has been dominant. The Braves have allowed just nine runs through five games this season; only the St. Louis Cardinals have been stingier.
They’re scoring lots of runs
Only one National League team has scored more runs than the Braves. That’s the Colorado Rockies, who are going to be a tough offense to contain all year, especially at the high-altitude Coors Field.
This, combined with the solid pitching, has been a recipe for success in Atlanta. But it’s not just the fact that the Braves’ offense has been giving pitchers a nice cushion, it’s how they’re doing it. They’ve scored 10 runs in the first inning, giving the starters momentum from the get-go.
And for all those frustrating times last season when the Braves got a runner into scoring position and couldn’t get him home, this season has been so much less stressful for Braves fans. No team has a better average with runners in scoring position than the Braves, who are batting a torrid .405 with runners on second or third.
This efficiency is a huge reason why the Braves have been so successful this year.
They’re actually making contact
All that talent in that loaded 2014 Braves lineup and they couldn’t hit the ball. But this year, they’re not only making contact, but they’re getting hits.
What a novel concept!
The Braves are batting .267 as a team, sixth-best in Major League Baseball and well above the .241 average of last year. In 2014, the Braves ranked No. 26 in batting average. They simply couldn’t get on base, and that led to a year’s worth of offensive woes.
Also, the Braves have the second-fewest strikeouts in the majors. Through five games, the Braves have fanned just 29 times. Only the Royals have fewer strikeouts, with 24. They’re also undefeated.
A year ago, the Braves had the fourth-most strikeouts in baseball. They struck out 1,369 times last year, while the 2015 squad is on pace to strike out just 940 times.
It isn’t rocket science; put the ball in play, and good things can happen. The 2015 Braves have been living proof of that so far.
Andrelton Simmons doing this:
Image: AP Photo/Kevin Liles