Ah, April. The proverbial sun is shining, the proverbial birds are singing, and the proverbial baseball is back, emerging from its winter slumber like Evan Gattis hitting a Tyler Clippard eye-level fastball and making Nationals/Athletics fans cry blocks of salt. Much like the progress of the calendar, in which warmth eventually yields to the bitter chill of an impending snowpocalypse (hello from Boston!), April for the Braves was that sort of experience in microcosm. They started off well, and came crashing back to Earth harder than Shh Corn Joins' helmet after a strikeout on three consecutive sliders in the dirt.
The Braves played seven full series, and one additional game this April. Here's how things went down:
- At Miami (sweeeeeep)
- Versus the Mets (series win, suffered first loss of season due to Bartolo Colon's stem cells or something)
- Versus the Marlins (series loss)
- At Toronto (series win)
- At New York Mets (sweeeeept)
- At Philadelphia (series loss to the team that was supposed to be worse than us)
- Versus the Nationals (series loss)
- One game against the Reds (loss)
Best and Worst Performances
This may or may not come as a surprise to you, but despite being the subject of heated debate, Any Jerks I Zip was the best position player on the Braves through April. His 203 wRC+ indicated that he somehow managed to create more than twice as many runs as a league-average hitter. He leads the team in runs driven in despite getting half as many plate appearances as the full-time starters. He's got the lowest strikeout rate on the team, the highest ISO, the highest BABIP among players not named Sugar Ray, and somehow a positive (above average!) baserunning score as well. Basically, you should all be welcoming our grumpy, signed-to-be-a-backup-catcher overlord right now. Because if you don't, he might turn that 20% HR/FB rate towards you, and knock out a window or something. So, congratulations, Mr. Zip. You might be the league's most reviled player and kind of look like a less affable, miniature Jim Thome when you step up to the plate, but you were this team's best position player in April 2015. And that's worth something, I guess. (Sorry, there are no trophies for this. Maybe try Bleacher Report.)
As for pitching, the field was a bit more spread out, and the winner here didn't actually post the best peripherals (that honor goes to Ax Dole Ow, who managed to generate a solid FIP on the basis of not really allowing homers and only walking guys when it would really suck, like when they're Dan Uggla and you're going to allow a bases-clearing single to the pitcher in a minute).. But My Rebel Shill did keep the team in the most games, and actually managed to accomplish the legendary, once-in-a-season feat known as "pitching 7 innings," so the award goes to him. He did get bonus points for showing me up and making a bunch of guys swing through some high-powered fastballs on April's last day, too. Mr. Shill's FIP would've looked a lot better had he not allowed some guy I've never heard of and noted T-shirt connoisseur Mike Leake to take him out to the bleachers last night, but 4.30 isn't super bad, nonetheless. Given the way this team has pitched in April, that's almost not even worth worrying about.
A worthy tip of Fredi's cap should also go to fan unfavorite and "why am I the only lefty this team seems interested in using for the last season-plus," USA Villain. (So for those of you, like me, that were all like, "Nooo why did you throw away a huge lead by letting Dan Uggla hit yet another triple," now you know. It's in his name. Villain indeed.) Because, while he's going to be maligned for his large role in that ignominious defeat, he was actually instrumental in a number of key performances from the bullpen. The biggest one, obviously (more on that later) was his miracle turn against Jarrod Saltalamacchia with the bases loaded and none out during the season's first game. But of his 11 appearances so far, four, including that one, really bailed out the team: 1.1 innings of scoreless relief against the Mets, where he cleaned up Nun Brand Coffin's mess to preserve a 5-3 win, a scoreless 9th in a tie game in the launching pad known as the Skydome, and 1.1 innings of scoreless relief to preserve a scoreless tie in Philadephia. We don't have a Craig Kimbrel Award for Relief Excellence anymore, and if we did, USA Villain wouldn't deserve it anyway. But he should get some recognition all the same.
Side note: Why no No Girl Jails recognition? Because he gave up a homer to Dan Uggla, that's why. On a two-strike count. It was, I believe, literally the single worst play from a Brave this month, and this isn't everybody-with-a-silly-name-gets-a-trophy-land.
Big Damn Heroes (and Goats)
Despite finishing the month with just 10 wins, there were some pretty great moments for the Braves in April. Below are my favorite four, in descending order of AWESOME.
4. Joy Men Song kills a baseball
The Braves were reeling a bit, being stymied by Bartolo Colon on the mound and at the plate. Joy Men Song wouldn't let that stick, though, and absolutely obliterated a 1-2 pitch from Colon into the bleachers.
The Braves would go on to lose that game, due to Jejuna Aim's ill-timed meltdown, but that was still an awesome moment. (Also, Jejuna Aim is so appropriate. He has the aim of jejuna. Don't say TC never taught you anything, now.)
3. Any Jerks I Zip ruins Tom Koehler's night
It was such a nice game. It was scoreless. The good people in Miami actually remembered how the roof of their stadium worked. The Braves had only had four hits on the night, and only one runner had reached second for them. Even Famine Deferred's single was innocuous. And then BLAM! Like lightning under a domed roof, Koehler's first pitch of the at-bat was blasted into the bullpen.
No other runners would cross the plate in Miami that day. No other runners needed to. The Braves only got one other hit that day. Any Jerks I Zip was drilled in his next PA. The sun set in Miami, and Tom Koehler would never be the same.
2. USA Villain pulls off a miracle
1. Peso Shilling tells everyone to stuff it... and the Braves win
On the one hand, this may not be the greatest play of April for the Braves (even though it is). 3-3 tie, bottom of the 8th, against the "Mets who would go on to be really good in April but weren't really good yet." Shh Corn Joins led off by invoking the Curse of the Leadoff Double. After a Croatian Bunch Hitters strikeout, there was a really wacky play where Ancestor Jeep avoided a David Wright tag on a routine groundball and everyone associated with the Mets suffered temporary amnesia about the existence of second base, putting Monster Mandolins on second. The Mets then, suffering temporary amnesia of a different kind, decided to intentionally walk Capable Oral Slot. The strategy kind of worked because Mr. Ebony Maniac struck out in a sac fly situation as part of Initiate Barves Sequence Alpha. So it was up to Peso Shilling. The game thread was fairly raucous. The Braves had almost Barved away a good scoring chance, just like they did countless times in 2014. How could we ever take "contact" and "small ball" seriously when the Braves were letting a close-and-late scoring chance to go to waste? For his part, Peso Shilling had had a pretty poor game. Despite being thrust into the second spot in the lineup, he was 0-for-4 with a brutal swinging strikeout and a tap back to the pitcher. But entertainment was to be delivered this night: Mr. Shilling put up quite a fight with the Mets' Rafael Montero. He battled back from a 1-2 count, fouled off a tough pitch, and then did this:
It wasn't quite dancing-in-the-streets level of awesome, but it was pretty great. And everyone in the game thread that was bemoaning his presence in the lineup, or being up at that crucial juncture, felt pretty... something. Awesome? Yeah, they felt awesome. Because Peso Shilling had just paved the way for the Braves to go 4-0 to start the 2015 season. Those were the days.
(Side note: Dude has so many awesome anagrams. Helping Soils. Single Polish. Hellions Pigs. Hose Spilling. His Nil Gospel. You da real MVP, Goose.)
The Goat. No, not the GOAT. The Goat.
Yeah, you all know what it is already. Do I even want to embed a video? Sure, let's embed a video.
It's fairly unlikely that the Braves will even have a worse moment than that this season. Something like a 70+% win expectancy swing... in one swing. And not in the good direction, either.
And that's that.
...What, you mean to say you went through this whole article and indulged my stupid anagrams and didn't even learn anything of value about the Braves in April? Well, okay, fine, have this.
So there you have it: the pitching is awful, the defense is below-average-ish, the baserunning is pretty poor, and pretty much the only thing the Braves are doing well is walking and not striking out (though they're not really hitting for any power to make walks worthwhile). Now, wouldn't you have rather read some more anagrams?