It must be gratifying for Frank Wren that two days into the 2013 season his Atlanta Braves are performing exactly as he envisioned when he built the team this offseason. Through two games the Braves have hit six homers, struck out 24 times, and scored 16 runs. While all the usual caveats about small sample sizes are relevant two games into a young season, it is a good sign that the team is winning exactly the way it was designed to. Justin Upton has arrived in Atlanta and made his presence felt immediately with two home runs. Freddie Freeman is holding down the cleanup spot and doing exactly that with six runs driven in to lead the National League. Jason Heyward is walking, scoring runs, and has hit a homer. Dan Uggla has homered and walked three times in two games. The starting rotation has been solid if not spectacular and the big guns in the bullpen seem ready to hold off all comers for title of best bullpen in baseball.
Perhaps, the most impressive aspect of the Braves lineup aside from the power has been the way it has worked the starting pitchers of the Phillies. Cole Hamels was only able to go five innings, while Roy Halladay only managed to go 3.1 before giving way to his bullpen. Both pitchers were forced early not only because they were being hit hard but because the patient Braves lineup refused to give quick outs. Halladay needed a full 40 pitches just to get out of the first inning against the potent Atlanta lineup. Taxing opponent starters like this was an integral part of the construction of the Braves lineup and shows an important aspect of a patient approach to hitting. Being patient doesn’t just earn a lineup walks it also gets the opponents starter out earlier. This was especially key on Opening Day were the Braves used Chad Durbin’s relief appearance to turn a 5-3 lead into a much more comfortable 7-3 lead.
Overall, the young 2013 season has played out exactly as Braves fans would hope. The only cog in the machine who hasn’t stepped up to fill his role is BJ Upton who is still waiting for his first hit in a Braves uniform. Fortunately, when the team is firing on every other cylinder the Braves can afford to be patient with the elder Upton brother. His approach has seemed as questionable in the early going as his 2012 .298 OBP would suggest, but there is still plenty of time for him to find his groove. Even if the dreamed of return to his early career walk rate never materializes BJ will still be doing his part once he starts hitting home runs and wreaking havoc on the basepaths. The hope has been that time with Greg Walker would lead to a more patient BJ, who supplements his home runs and stolen bases with some walks. Even if this doesn’t fully come to pass BJ will still help the Braves plenty with his other contributions.
The 2013 Braves are hitting home runs, scoring in bunches, working starting pitchers to death with their grinding approach, and stifling opponent hitters. While the season is still very young and plenty of time for things to careen out of control is there, the early success seems more sustainable when the winning comes exactly the way the front office planned on it coming. While two victories don’t make you champions, it is better than two defeats.