Monday, April 18, 2016

Weekend Series Recap: Braves v. Marlins April 15-17, 2016

Ok, so I go away for a weekend and the Braves decide to not only win a game, but sweep a series. Maybe I'm bad luck. Maybe I need to go to Athens every weekend. After who I saw walking around at G-Day, that's probably not a bad idea. Because there's beautiful people everywhere in Athens this time of year. I digress.

I have no idea what happened that lit a fire under the team, or if it's just that the Marlins are THAT inept, but whatever it was it worked in spades. The first win is always the toughest during a long slide, and the Braves did try to give the game away on Friday as fans agonized over the bullpen struggling to hold on. I was watching the play-by-play on my phone as I was already in Athens, and desperately tweeting out LOCK IT UP references to Wedding Crashers.

So what did I take away from all the games this weekend as the Braves earned their first sweep (hopefully of many) on the season? Well, two things that seemed to change, and the first was that Freddie Freeman started hitting. There were many that argued with me that Freddie wasn't the reason the Braves were losing, but I contend that Freddie is very much a mental and statistical lynch-pin to this team's success. Let's take a look.

Freddie Freeman in the 0-9 skid: 2/25 (.080 average), 1 homer, 2 runs, 2 RBIs.
Freddie Freeman in the 3 wins: 4/11 (.370 average), 1 double, 3 runs, 2 RBIs.

So basically in the span of 3 games, Freddie put up twice as many hits, more runs, and the same amount of RBIs as he had in the other 9 games. Also with 3 runs and 2 RBIs, Freddie had a hand in 5 of the 18 runs scored that weekend. That's a big increase. But even more than that, it's a big help for the guys in the lineup that mentally you're keeping the line moving. When the #3 best hitter in the lineup can't get a hit, it really weighs down the rest of the order. Freddie was a big part of the success in Miami, and it showed up in everyone else's bats as well.

The other big success was the bullpen obviously. The pen had 4.2 scoreless innings on Friday, 3.2 scoreless on Saturday, and then 2 runs in 4.2 innings on Sunday. That's an ERA of around 1.44 for the bullpen on the weekend. Compare that to the ERA of over 8.00+ during the losing streak, and it's not hard to see why the Braves suddenly held onto leads late.

Those two elements are going to be key for the Braves all year. You can ask yourself the following two questions in most games: 1 - Did Freddie have a good day at the plate? 2 - Did the bullpen hold up well? If both those are yes, it's a solid chance the Braves won. If both of those are no, there's almost no chance the Braves won. If it's 50/50 you better hope the starter had a heck of a day.

And there's the other big stories from this series sweep, like Jace Peterson coming through yet again with the bases loaded for 3 RBIs, or the fact that Nick Markakis is leading the NL in doubles and slugging his butt off, or that AJ Pierzynski actually stole a base, or that Kelly Johnson is now getting more time and capitalizing on it, or that we've shifted Mallex Smith into a meaningful role, or that the Braves won all 3 games despite the starters being sub-par. 

But the biggest thing from this weekend was that the Braves avoided some seriously bad history, and they looked like a real baseball team for the first time this year. That's all I've wanted all year. Look like you know what the heck you're doing, and surprise us with the young talent we know we'll see in the years to come. I'm in for a rebuild; I'm not in for a decimation. The team has to try and win our hearts even if it can't win tons of games.

If they keep this up, they'll win plenty of hearts in 2016.

GO BRAVES!

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