Potential for more from Braves is there

sports@macon.comApril 16, 2013 

Getting off to a great start in a long baseball season is always important. The Braves’ 11-1 start -- a start that turned into 12-1 with a victory Tuesday night over Kansas City -- is the second best in the 48 years the franchise has been in Atlanta. And as Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said Sunday, “It sure is better than 1-11.”

But how important is this for the Braves? Does it guarantee a great season?

The best start was in 1982, when Atlanta had the magical 13-0 run to begin Joe Torre’s first season as manager. The Braves finished with 89 wins and won the NL West that season, and would have had more wins if not for a summer swoon that saw them lose 19 of 21 games.

The only other time the Braves started 11-1 was the 1994 season, which was interrupted by the players’ strike. Atlanta won 68 games and was on pace for 97 wins before the season was cancelled.

Three other times the Braves started 9-3, including the 1969 season when the team won the NL West. It happened again in 1983, when the Braves lost the division to the Dodgers by three games, and in 1997, when Atlanta won 101 games and won the NL East.

The Braves have won eight games out of the first 12 on three occasions (1971, 1999 and 2007). They won the division and went to the World Series in 1999 and had winning seasons the other two years.

So history shows this great start gives the Braves a great chance to have a special season. Heck, if they go .500 the rest of the way, they’ll finish with 86 wins. Of course, on the flip side, if they turn around and have a five-game losing streak or something even worse, that strong start might not be as big a deal.

Some believe that it usually evens out during the course of a six-month season. But if you’ve watched this team, you probably believe the Braves will keep winning. It undoubtedly won’t be at this pace, but this team is good and might actually get better.

The Braves have done all of this with three regulars (Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla) hitting below .200. They’ve done this with Freddie Freeman on the disabled list for the last week. And they’ve done this with starting catcher Brian McCann on the shelf as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery.

They’ve done this with pitching, which is what some were worried about entering the season. The Braves have the best closer in baseball in Craig Kimbrel, and the rotation isn’t too shabby, either.

But how much better will this team be when the lineup clicks? Justin Upton, Chris Johnson and Evan Gattis have carried the team offensively so far, but what if they all click at the same time?

What about the potential impact McCann will have when he returns?

Yes, it’s going to be an issue when McCann gets back, and Gonzalez is going to have to find a way to keep Gattis in the lineup. But let’s remember how great McCann has been through the years when he has been healthy. It’s easy to get caught up in the wave of Gattis fever, but McCann is a six-time All-Star who has been an outstanding player for this team.

Don’t forget about starter Brandon Beachy. He’ll be ready to return in midseason. He was a Cy Young candidate before he got hurt last June. Beachy could go back in the rotation or maybe even be brought along slowly by coming back as a reliever. Either way, Beachy should make the pitching staff even better.

Reliever Jonny Venters is expected back next month, and, if healthy, there’s little doubt he’ll make the best bullpen in baseball even better.

And if the Braves need something else to make the roster even stronger, general manager Frank Wren has the financial flexibility and the depth to make a deal happen before July 31.

Things happen during the course of a long season, but so far even injuries to key players have not been a problem for this team. This strong start proves the Braves are trying to avoid another wild-card game this year. The Braves want to regain the NL East, and they while they are very good now, they may be even better later on this summer.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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