I know what you’re thinking. And here’s where I, calling on my many years of being too hasty to judge, offer a piece of advice:
Stop thinking what you’re thinking.
The Braves are 4-6 and haven’t hit a lick. They lost Games 2 and 3 of a series against the Phillies and were outscored 13-2 and outhit 23-11. If the next 152 games track a similar course, Frank Wren and Fredi Gonzalez will have much explaining to do. But this team will hit harder and win more over those 152 games. And how do we know this?
Because we watched something similar happen in this very city only last year.
Through 10 games, the 2011 Braves are hitting .229, which is lousy. The 2010 Braves were hitting .227 as April ended, and that was a larger sample set (23 games). The 2010 Braves were 9-14 after the season’s first month and looked as dead as a team can look. Four key players — Troy Glaus, Melky Cabrera, Matt Diaz and Nate McLouth — carried averages under .200.
That team won 91 games and made the playoffs.
Did we learn nothing from our hand-wringing of spring 2010? Have our years of watching baseball taught us so little about the game itself? As Dan Uggla said after Sunday’s loss: “This is such a long season. There’s a lot of emphasis on the first few weeks, but you have to wait until mid-May and mid-June to see who has stepped up and is doing their thing — and then you see who’s going to be there in September.”
Baseball isn’t football. The season lasts six months, not 16 weeks. And an enduring truth of this sport is that a proven hitter will eventually hit. Uggla was imported from the Florida Marlins because he has a history of producing runs, but to date he has contributed far more at second base — and he has a history of not being much of a glover — than at the plate.
Dan Uggla is hitting .158 after 10 games. Dan Uggla will not be hitting .158 after 40 games. For all the wrong-headed predictions I’ve made in my so-called career, I have the utmost confidence that I’ll be right about this one.
If you liked the Braves when they left spring training, you should like them still. They’ve pitched well — even after being harnessed by Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels over the weekend, the Braves’ team ERA is still better than Philadelphia’s — and their defense looks superb. They’ve done everything except hit, but the hitting will come. Have a little faith.
After Sunday’s game, someone asked the new manager what concerned him. “Nothing concerns me,” Gonzalez said. “I’d just like to see some victories, but they’re going to come. And when they do, they’re going to come in bunches.”
We can’t yet know if the Braves will have enough to hang with Philly all summer. That said, there’s no reason to believe a lineup including Martin Prado, Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Jason Heyward and Uggla will starve for runs. And the rookie Freddie Freeman should, given time, be just fine. (The lamentable McLouth could be another story, though. He looks as helpless as ever.)
The Braves’ three chances Sunday ended thusly: Jones swung at Hamels’ first pitch and grounded to third; Freeman swung at Hamels’ first pitch and grounded to second; facing reliever Ryan Madson, McLouth hit into a 4-6-3 double play. Yes, those were feeble swings, but Gonzalez had it right when he said: “When you run into a good pitcher, that’s what happens.”
At some point these Braves will need to invent ways to score against good pitching, if only enough to keep Derek Lowe from being the unluckiest pitcher this side of Seattle’s Felix Hernandez. (Lowe has an ERA of 1.45 and is 1-2.) But they’ll figure it out. They’ll hit enough to win 90 games, give or take, and maybe that will again book passage to the postseason.
Please note: As lackluster as this start has been, it’s a comparative skyrocket. These Braves have played 10 games and managed at least a hit in each. After their 11th game, the 2010 Braves couldn’t even say that much. On April 17, they were no-hit by Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez.
By Mark Bradley