The Braves are still waiting on their first series win of the season after dropping two to the Mets and Pirates. But in that 1-5 opening stretch came highs, lows and a surprise signing as we dig into the week that was for Atlanta.
1. New-look rotation largely living up to innings-eating expectations
Last season, the Braves combined for 69 quality starts, with only the Rockies (66), Reds (62), Twins (61) and Diamondbacks (57) having fewer than Atlanta's, with a team-high 16 of those coming from Julio Teheran. Hence, why no bullpen in franchise history threw more innings than the 2016 group's 567 1/3.
That -- along with giving the likes of Aaron Blair and Matt Wisler more minor-league seasoning -- was behind adding 40-somethings Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey and oft-injured veteran left-hander Jaime Garcia to staff ace Teheran.
While Teheran delivered quality starts in both of his outings, including Sunday's seven-inning, two-hit, no-run gem vs. the Pirates (a day that unfortunately ended with another no-decision, a two-season-long routine for him), the Braves supplemented those days with strong ones form the aged newbies.
Colon delivered a QS in his debut with six innings of one-run ball Wednesday vs. the Mets. Meanwhile, Garcia gave up four innings in his six innings Thursday in New York and Dickey was an out shy of a quality start of his own in Saturday's loss in Pittsburgh (he gave up three earned in 5 2/3).
On the down side, the mental side of the game continues to plague Mike Foltnyewicz, who lasted just 3 2/3 Friday vs. the Pirates and might be skipped in his next start and come out of the bullpen.
It's a byproduct of the extra off-days in this first two-week stretch, but how visibly frustrated he was with the strike zone in Pittsburgh was concerning, especially with how vocal he's been in admitting he needs to improve that part of his game.
But the biggest issue with the Braves' staff a year ago was in backing up Teheran, especially in the second half. Foltynewicz was the only pitcher still on the 25-man roster who, outside of Teheran, had more than three quality starts after the All-Star break last season.
If the first week -- even those near-misses by Dickey and Garcia -- are any indication, the Braves staff in its current form shouldn't be lagging behind in the QS department in 2017. Nor will it lead to such a taxed bullpen as the Braves are in the bottom third of MLB in innings pitched out of the bullpen at 19 2/3.
Brad PennerBrad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
2. Freddie Freeman starts and ends his week in emphatic fashion
After that opening game in New York, in which he went 3 for 4 with a triple, Freddie Freeman appeared to be jump-starting his MVP campaign and continuing a torrid spring in which he hit .489.
He then proceeded to get two hits in his next 17 at-bats and struck out five times. In all, it included one hit in eight plate appearances with men on (a .167 average).
Above, per BrooksBaseball.net, is a side-by-side of Freeman's swing per pitch last season (on the left) -- when he had a career-best .267 ISO -- and this year (on the right). It's an extremely small sample size, one week being what it is, but all three of Freeman's Opening Day hits came low in the zone and since then he'd been consistency biting on outside pitches, which definitely contributed to his rut .
Sunday was a return to the Freeman of '16, though, as he went 4-for-5, including his first two home runs of the season and his first double. He made a defensive miscue on a Teheran pickoff attempt that paved the way for two Pittsburgh runs, but in all this was Freeman's best game of the young season.
It's a good sign as the Braves now head to Marlins Park for two games, where Freeman hit .471/.519/.989 last year and will face one starter he's done well against Dan Straily (.667 agains with a homer) and one he's struggled against inTom Koehler (.219 with 11 strikeouts).
3. Just try and find a downside to signing former MVP Ryan Howard
This past week's news that the Braves had inked Ryan Howard to a minor-league contract likely elicited one of three initial responses: 1) Wait, that Ryan Howard? 2) Wait, didn't he hit .196 last season? or 3) Wait, could this be exactly what Atlanta's bench needs?
The right reaction is likely that last one, that is if you don't dwell too much on the player the 37-year-old Howard was for the Phillies before that Achilles injury suffered in Game 5 of the National League Division Series in 2011.
The days of 2006-11, when he mashed 262 homers -- the most in baseball in that span -- are long gone, and he's had just one year since '11 in which he had an offensive WAR above -5.0 and posted an above-average OPS+.
But, Howard did hit 25 home runs last season and has hit no fewer than 23 in any of the past three years. His second half of '16 included a .932 OPS and on the year he had a 177 wRC+ in the month of August. That last figure is the single highest monthly wRC+ that Howard has posted since a 213 in the last month of 2008, when he capped a 48-HR, 146-RBI season.
Considering the Phillies already bought him out for $10 million this season and the Braves' deal will pay out $750,000 if and when he makes the majors, where's the downside?
Add in the Braves' bench includes Jace Peterson (seven homers in '16), Chase d'Arnaud (one), Emilio Bonifacio (zero) and whoever isn't catching between Tyler Flowers (eight) and Kurt Suzuki (eight), and that entering Sunday pinch hitters combined for zero RBI, isn't there real value in the potential pop of a 20-home run hitter? Not to mention what he can provide behind Freddie Freeman at first base or as a designated hitter in interleague games.
Keep in mind the Nationals in February signed a bench bat in 33-year-old Adam Lind -- who hit 20 homers in each of the past two years -- for $1.5 million. The Braves could potentially get a bat just as if not more dangerous for half that -- and if it doesn't work out as he joins Triple-A Gwinnett after stop at extending spring training, then they walk away.
It's hard to find a fault here, because there isn't one ... unless you get caught up in who Howard used to be. But that player was the Phillies', both in success and in financial obligation. As a role player/bench piece at $750K, the Braves may have made a high-value addition.