Bill Shanks

Braves finish streaky month of April

Atlanta Braves' Matt Kemp watches his third home run of a baseball game fly over the right field wall against Milwaukee Brewers' Jhan Marinez during the eighth inning Saturday, April 29, 2017, in Milwaukee.
Atlanta Braves' Matt Kemp watches his third home run of a baseball game fly over the right field wall against Milwaukee Brewers' Jhan Marinez during the eighth inning Saturday, April 29, 2017, in Milwaukee. AP

The month of April is over for the Atlanta Braves, and there is only one word to describe what we saw in the first 23 games.

Streaky.

The Braves lost six out of their first seven and then won five in a row. Then Atlanta lost six straight before having a four-game win streak snapped Sunday.

This should not be unexpected. This is a team with a lot of new players, trying to find its way. It’s easy to believe the Braves will be better in June and July than in April and May.

There is plenty to be excited about. Sure, the 10-13 record is not great. But the Braves showed us what they are capable of with some good baseball at times.

The offense was led by Freddie Freeman, who was unbelievably good in April. Freeman hit .381 with nine home runs and 14 RBI. His .485 on base percentage is second-best in baseball, behind Washington’s Bryce Harper.

The two players behind Freeman in the order also had solid starts to the season. Despite missing 10 games, Matt Kemp had a .321 batting average, six home runs and 16 RBI. That was in only 13 games. And Nick Markakis hit .310 with a home run and 10 RBI with a .390 OBP.

It’s the top of the order that must be better in May than it was in April. Ender Inciarte hit just .230 with four home runs and seven stolen bases. In the 10 games the Braves won, Inciarte hit .349 with a .417 OBP. In the 13 they lost, Inciarte hit just .140. So, as Inciarte goes, so do the Braves.

It’ll be interesting to see what manager Brian Snitker does with the lineup in May. Dansby Swanson was dropped from the number two hole with a .156 average in the first month. The Braves would love to eventually get Swanson back up there, but he must first get back on track.

Brandon Phillips has been great at the plate in his first month in Atlanta, hitting .355 with two home runs, nine RBI and five stolen bases. Snitker could put Phillips back up at the two hole, or leave Adonis Garcia there for a few more games to get him going. Garcia hit .222 in April but did much better in the second spot in the order.

Tyler Flowers was great in April, hitting .391 with nine RBI and a .481 OBP. Flowers battled a hamstring issue for half the month. His bat is much better than Kurt Suzuki, who hit just .182.

Atlanta’s pinch-hitters must get better. They were 6-35 (.171) in April. You have to wonder if Ryan Howard could join Atlanta’s bench in May. Howard is hitting just .167 in Gwinnett.

The Braves’ starting pitchers were much better in April compared to the group that finished last season. Atlanta’s starters had a 3.87 ERA in the 23 games. Mike Foltynewicz (2.81) finished April with the best ERA, with Julio Teheran next at 3.38.

The new starters — Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia — combined for a 4-5 record in April, with an ERA of 4.50. They have brought stability to the rotation, as Atlanta’s five starters are averaging just under six innings per start.

The relievers were up and down, and they finished April with a 4.66 ERA. Closer Jim Johnson converted four of six save opportunities. Johnson’s ERA is the same as the bullpen’s ERA for April.

Jose Ramirez was outstanding in April, with a 1.50 ERA in 12 games. Long-man Josh Collmenter had an ERA of 2.00 in his five appearances with nine innings pitched. Matt Wisler had two scoreless relief outings, making some wonder if the bullpen should be his new home.

The Braves just need Arodys Vizcaino, Eric O’Flaherty and Ian Krol to be more consistent. Each showed flashes of very good pitching in April, but would follow that up with an awful outing.

This team survived the month of April. It wasn’t easy, with 16 road games and only seven at the new SunTrust Park. They’ll play 16 of 29 games at home in May, with a seven-game homestand to start the month on Monday against the Mets.

The Braves are six games behind the Nationals (17-8) in the NL East, but only one game behind the Marlins and Phillies, who both have a record of 11-12.

Be patient. This is going to be a wild ride this season. But the Braves have shown us there are plenty of reasons to watch every single game.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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