Loss aside, these Braves look way ahead of last season

Chipper Jones sees something in these Braves that was absent in 2011. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Chipper Jones sees something in these Braves that was absent in 2011. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

(Updated: 10:05 p.m.)

When the Braves started this season 0-4, a number of thoughts went through the minds of fans, not a single one of which was: “Do you realize that we could still go 158-4? That would be a record.”

But when the first month of the season ended Monday, the Braves were operating in relative bliss. (Well, bliss interrupted by the implausible wrecking ball of the Pittsburgh Pirates, but bliss nonetheless.) Until a 9-3 loss to the Pirates, they were 14-4 following that 0-4 hiccup, a nice place to be with the Philadelphia Phillies coming to town.

It’s not merely that the Braves suddenly found themselves winning games but that they were winning them in ways that suggested this stretch won’t be viewed as some aberration at season’s end.

That projection may seem just as knee-jerk as those who were panicking at 0-4. But consider the words of Chipper Jones when he was asked if he ever sensed that last season’s team had the same character traits as this one, even when things were going well in 2011.

“No,” he said. “Last year for a while things just came easy for us. Then when things got tough and we started falling into some bad luck, it just went downhill. Guys’ hits went down. It was like we were sitting there waiting for something bad to happen. But now we’re going out and taking the bull by the horns.”

This all may seem like standard, rah-rah, go-team bunk to some. But the hiring of hitting coaches Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher has paid significant dividends, and there just seems to be an edge about this team that wasn’t evident a year ago.

The reaction to the 0-4 start bordered on hysterical. But it wasn’t completely surprising. When a team dropkicks a playoff berth the way the Braves did a year ago, there is bound to be a hangover with fans. But you can tell a lot about a team by how it reacts during losing streaks (or 0-4 starts).

“I’ve been on teams, not the Braves, where people kind of jokingly would draw a button on the white board with the word ‘panic’ on it,” Matt Diaz said. “I’ve heard stories on other teams where somebody would draw a picture of a ship under the water, as in, ‘This ship is sinking.’ And that was while they were in first place. But there’s never a sense of panic here.”

The Braves managed only 10 runs in the first four games (2.5). They scored 103 in the next 18 (5.7). Until Mike Minor’s implosion Monday — seven runs, two homers, eight hits, three walks in 6 1/3 innings) — the starting pitching had been so good that the bullpen was on a relative spring break.

How do we know this team won’t fizzle like last year’s? We don’t.

But health likely will be the biggest factor, especially Jones. It’s a different team with him. Before Monday, the Braves were 10-1 when he was in the starting lineup, 4-7 when he wasn’t. It’s not just what he brings as a hitter or in the field. He’s a “calming influence” (his words), and he can’t lead if he’s on the bench.

“It’s my responsibility to stay on top of things,” he said. “Obviously 0-4 is not insurmountable, but moreover what you try to get across to these guys is learning how to win. The sign of championship teams are the guys who bring it day in and day out. That’s why we were on top for so long. That’s why the Phillies have been on top for so long.”

Last season he suggested the Braves got complacent (my word).

“We were pitching so well, we didn’t have to go out and score runs,” he said. “Then all of a sudden some of the guys in the rotation went down, guys in the bullpen got tired and it got difficult. When we really had to concentrate on every at-bat, executing in certain situations, whether it was a bunt, hitting behind a runner, getting a guy in from third with two outs, we couldn’t do that.”

It’s still early. We’ve learned that scientific samplings don’t come until September. But at least this year’s team doesn’t look like it’s waiting for something to happen.

By Jeff Schultz

124 comments Add your comment

Steve

April 30th, 2012
7:51 pm

A live blog on a Monday night?! Sweet. Braves are rolling for sure! Curious to see how long Washington keeps it up without any hitting.

Jeff Schultz

April 30th, 2012
8:00 pm

What the heck, Monday night is alright for blogging . . . Wasn’t that an Elton John song?

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

April 30th, 2012
8:04 pm

game should be 3 to 2 if the umpire wasn’t so blind on Bourn’s steal!!
JS- you should also point out the fact they’ve won what, the past 5 or 6 series.

Willy

April 30th, 2012
8:06 pm

Jeff,
How about that big soccer game today? What a game!

ZinoDawg

April 30th, 2012
8:06 pm

Win tonight then butcher the Fillys.

Jeff Schultz

April 30th, 2012
8:06 pm

Minor got that one up to Pedro Alvarez and he crushed it. That’s 5 for him and a 4-2 Pirates lead.

Jeff Schultz

April 30th, 2012
8:07 pm

Willy — There was a soccer game today? I thought the Atlanta Beat folded (again)?

Jeff Schultz

April 30th, 2012
8:09 pm

Why are their pyrotechnics in Turner Field for Minor striking out Rod Barajas (.130)? He almost shouldn’t count.

Willy

April 30th, 2012
8:11 pm

Over in England there was. The derby between Man. U and Man. City.

Willy

April 30th, 2012
8:12 pm

The AJC needs more of an international scope when covering sports.

Willy

April 30th, 2012
8:14 pm

Why is Atlanta considered the worst professional sports town?

Willy

April 30th, 2012
8:14 pm

Is Mark Bradley taller than his refrigerator?

Willy

April 30th, 2012
8:16 pm

Why does Ted Turner have a permanent milk mustache on his face?

Willy

April 30th, 2012
8:17 pm

Did Bud Selig ever play baseball at some point in his life?

Willy

April 30th, 2012
8:18 pm

Does the Cheetah Club really have cheetahs?

Steve

April 30th, 2012
8:19 pm

Wow Willy you sure are making this blog fun. Atlanta isn’t the worst. I would put Miami, Cleveland, and Oakland at the top.

Jeff Schultz

April 30th, 2012
8:19 pm

Willy — So many questions. So little time. But I have been to the Cheetah once and never did see an actual cheetah. So I never went back.

Willy

April 30th, 2012
8:21 pm

Why is Jimmy Carter allowed to go to Braves games?

Jeff Schultz

April 30th, 2012
8:21 pm

What a game for Eric Hinske — a hard bunt single to third base to exploit a Pirates’ shift, and a broken bat bloop single. But it just says 2 for 2 in the box score.

Jeff Schultz

April 30th, 2012
8:22 pm

By the way Willy, what’s more “international” than baseball?

Willy

April 30th, 2012
8:23 pm

Eric Hinske likes his sunflower seeds covered in cinnamon.

Willy

April 30th, 2012
8:24 pm

Soccer is more international than baseball. Baseball isn’t really played in Africa.

Steve

April 30th, 2012
8:25 pm

And soccer isn’t really played in the United States : )

Willy

April 30th, 2012
8:26 pm

Whoa, is Brooks Conrad still on the Braves?

Willy

April 30th, 2012
8:26 pm

Steve, I resent that comment.

Dwayne

April 30th, 2012
8:28 pm

hmmmmm. soccer or watch paint dry….watch paint dry wins by a goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllllllllllllll

Steve

April 30th, 2012
8:30 pm

Jeff, for a real question, whatever happened to Marcus Giles?

Willy

April 30th, 2012
8:31 pm

Dwayne,
Shouldn’t you be rehearsing your lines for that movie, the “Toothy Fairy”, right now?

Dwayne

April 30th, 2012
8:34 pm

or mayne watch paint dry wins by a goal

Jeff Schultz

April 30th, 2012
8:34 pm

Willy — I’m putting you on commenting probation unless it’s about the game.

Dwayne

April 30th, 2012
8:35 pm

or gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaallllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll

Willy

April 30th, 2012
8:36 pm

But Jeff, I don’t have a TV to watch the game :(

Willy

April 30th, 2012
8:36 pm

I’m just a poor grad. student :(

Dwayne

April 30th, 2012
8:37 pm

by the way…Go Braves

Jeff Schultz

April 30th, 2012
8:37 pm

Steve — Marcus Giles’ head exploded. Seriously, he was one of the biggest jack***** I’ve ever covered. But seriously (really), he has been out of baseball for 5 years and not sure what he’s doing now. Probably back living in San Diego.

Dwayne

April 30th, 2012
8:38 pm

one more thing….Hey (wet) Willy, “just keep on smiling”

Jeff Schultz

April 30th, 2012
8:38 pm

Willy — I see you’re getting a lot of studying done.

Maple Drive, Griffin, GA

April 30th, 2012
8:38 pm

Eric Hinske has a full back tattoo, dragons!

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

April 30th, 2012
8:40 pm

to answer the majority of your questions willy- yes!! forbes ranked ATL the worst sports city, primarily due to the horrible owners/corporations that own the teams (with the exception of Blank & the Falcons). Sherman cursed this city after he burned it and we’ve suffered since. Ted Turner’s mustache is not milk, its the ashes of 100 dollar bills glued to his face.

Marteen is a Ballplayer

April 30th, 2012
8:40 pm

I came on just to vent about Eddings and the gang…we are winning the series despite Eddings and his crew. Bourn out at second, check swing by Freeman, dead ball off the foot yesterday that they allowed a run (and screwed up my Braves by 1 1/2).

Okay feel better…kinda.

Steve

April 30th, 2012
8:41 pm

How do you really feel Jeff? Ha. Sorry to hear he was like that. I am sure that’s not fun to deal with! Seems like players like that are few and far between in a Braves uniform. Escobar learned that the hard way it seems.

chem

April 30th, 2012
8:41 pm

Get back in the lab Willy

Willy

April 30th, 2012
8:41 pm

Clemson is a joke of a school.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

April 30th, 2012
8:43 pm

JS- was Giles worse than DeAngelo Hall though in terms of jack*****??

Steve

April 30th, 2012
8:44 pm

Shocking performance by Minor! Guess you can’t dominate them all!

Willy

April 30th, 2012
8:45 pm

His name is Minor, which means he should be in the Minor Leagues, rooming with Jurrjens!!!!

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

April 30th, 2012
8:47 pm

did i hear that correctly, first time this season pirates scored more than 5 runs in a game?? of course, braves make that happen!!

Willy

April 30th, 2012
8:49 pm

I miss Skip Caray.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

April 30th, 2012
8:51 pm

mccann needs to learn how to play against the shift!!

G

April 30th, 2012
8:51 pm

McCann has not been any factor so far this season