Bill Shanks

Braves hit the road two games out of first place

Atlanta Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte, left, Dansby Swanson (7) and Jesse Biddle, right, celebrate Inciarte's winning bunt during the ninth inning their game against the New York Mets on Saturday in Atlanta.
Atlanta Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte, left, Dansby Swanson (7) and Jesse Biddle, right, celebrate Inciarte's winning bunt during the ninth inning their game against the New York Mets on Saturday in Atlanta. AP

As we start this new week, the Braves are two games out of first place behind the New York Mets. They start a 10-game road trip Monday night with the first of four in Cincinnati, before going to Philadelphia and New York.

In fact, the Braves play 16 of the next 19 games on the road. After returning from this trip, they’ll play three games at home against the Giants and then go south for two games against Tampa Bay and then four in Miami.

The Braves have played seven series so far this season. They’ve only lost one of them, losing two of three to Washington the first week of April. They tied a two-game set with the Cubs and the other five the Braves have won two of three games.

No one likely predicted the Braves would be 12-8 in the first 20 games. We really didn’t know what to expect from a team in season four of a rebuild. They’ve exceeded anyone’s expectations, however, and they have a chance to improve their winning record.

The Reds are 3-18, so the Braves probably hope they can win three of four games. The Phillies have been great at home (9-1), so next weekend will be a challenge. Although five of those nine wins for Philadelphia were against Miami and Cincinnati, the two worst teams in the National League. And you can expect the games in New York against the Mets next week to have the same atmosphere we saw in Atlanta these last few games.

Atlanta’s starting pitching needs to continue its good work for the record to stay way above the .500 mark. In the last 15 games, the Braves starters have gone 7-2 with a 1.97 earned run average. Atlanta’s rotation ERA for the season is now 3.04, much better than expected.

The bullpen can still be shaky at times, but it still has an overall ERA of 3.51. We’ll see if A.J. Minter gets any save opportunities on this road trip.

Of course, scoring runs has been the key for the Braves in the first three-plus weeks of the season. They lead the NL with 111 runs scored, an average of 5.55 per game, and in batting average (.266).

Can it continue?

Let’s first talk about left field. While Preston Tucker had a great game last Thursday night (2 hits, 5 RBI), that was his only multihit game in the last two weeks. Tucker is hitting .175 in his last 14 games, with a .227 on base percentage.

Meanwhile, in Triple-A Gwinnett, Ronald Acuna went 3-for-6 on Sunday and he now has a 5-game hitting streak. Acuna has hit .333 (8-for-24) in that stretch to get his season batting average up to .217.

Could that mean an Acuna promotion is close? Yes, a few more good games and we could see Acuna join the Atlanta roster, especially if Tucker doesn’t start hitting more consistently. Sure, it was great that Tucker is one of the NL’s RBI leaders, but the run production has come in spurts.

Third base may be getting interesting, as well. Ryan Flaherty leads the NL in hitting with a .362 batting average, but Johan Camargo is back and did had a big hit Saturday night. Does Camargo deserve the job we thought he was going to have back, or should Flaherty continue until his hitting gets back to normal?

Then Sunday the Braves talked about Jose Bautista getting closer. They just signed Bautista last Wednesday, but reports have him looking good at third base in Florida. Speculations is Bautista could join the Braves on this road trip.

So, who does manager Brian Snitker start at third base? It could get interesting.

Saturday night was once again proof that this season is a bit different, that this team is better. With the talent on the roster expected to improve, it’s going to be fun to see if the Braves can keep this winning going throughout the entire season.

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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