It wasn’t so long ago — 17 days, to be precise — that we noted that the 2012 Atlanta Braves’ window of opportunity mightn’t be as panoramic as that of most teams embarking on a six-month season. The Braves, as we know, were coming off a regrettable September, and they’d started 0-4 against teams slotted to finish last in their respective divisions. To which we said: Yikes.
Today we say: That window has grown so broad that on a clear day you almost can see October.
The Braves have won 12 of 15, taking five consecutive series in the process. They’re tied with St. Louis as having the third-best record in the National League and the fourth-best in baseball. Yes, they’re 2 1/2 games behind Washington, which has caught a flying start, but they’re three games ahead of Philadelphia and four up on Miami. And — get this — they’ve scored the most runs of any NL club.
The team that couldn’t hit is hitting .261, up from last season’s .243. Its on-base percentage is .324, up from the .308 of 2011. Chipper Jones, on whom so much still depends, has played in only 11 games but has 10 RBI’s. Jason Heyward, who hit .227 last season, is batting .303. Dan Uggla, who was hitting .195 eight games ago, is up to .264.
Apart from Jair Jurrjens working his way down to Class AAA, the starting pitching has been just fine. Brandon Beachy has yielded three earned runs in four starts. Tommy Hanson has an ERA of 3.38; Mike Minor’s is 3.42. Randall Delgado has already won twice, and Tim Hudson is due back Sunday. And the bullpen?
The Braves have blown one save in 19 games, that coming when Eric O’Flaherty lost a seventh-inning lead in a game his team would win. Jonny Venters hasn’t allowed an opponent to put the ball in play — forget getting a hit — in his past two outings: Six batters faced, six strikeouts. Craig Kimbrel faced eight men in preserving two narrow leads in Los Angeles: Five struck out.
Granted, the same caveat applies now that the Braves are winning as when they were 0-4: It’s a long season. Stuff can and will happen. But you can’t help but like the way this team shrugged off 0-4 and has been tearing it up ever since. They swept the Brewers, who played in the NLCS last season; took three of four from Arizona, which won the West in 2011, and two of three from the Dodgers, who’d started 7-0 at home.
Maybe my eyes deceive me — they’ve been known to do that — but this looks like a really good team. More to the point, the Braves have already assured themselves of a winning April, and having a good April was a big deal for this bunch.
By Mark Bradley