Great run there! "Wire to wire" if that wire extended from about 12:30AM to 10:00PM, May 6th.
Really the loss isn't a surprise. I'd bet on the Nats losing to Kershaw regardless of who's pitching. Make it Blake Treinen and there you go. Easy money. In fact I fully expect the Nats to be in 2nd (or 3rd - since the division is so tight) by the time May 11th rolls around. What I also expect is the Nats to be within a game or two of first and staring down a 25 game stretch where they play only one "good" team (Texas visits at the very end of May). Quibble if you want about who is "good" or not, but it's by the end of that run where I'd like to see the Nats with a couple game lead on the rest of the East. (Braves will start that same stretch with 11 games vs the Giants, Cards, and Brewers).Don't get too worked up over losses over the rest of this week/weekend.
One of the big questions brought up yesterday was "Is this run of losses by the Braves telling?" Good teams go through losing streaks all the time, even ones that go 7+ games. Of course bad teams do to, and they do it more often. So what does this mean about the Braves?
Is the offense an issue for the Braves? Yes
Freddie Freeman is the best offensive player in the NL East. I don't trust your age Utley. I don't trust your "you" Stanton. And there's no reason Justin Upton (26) couldn't be having a "best year" type season. But beyond that things are shaky. The problem is no one gets on base for these guys to drive in. a .296 OBP for the team. Of the other guys doing ok, Gattis and Simmons are POP guys (I know you probably think Simmons is a singly Joe because that's what SS are but no - he's a decent POP guy) but neither gets on base (Gattis .290 OBP, Simmons .300) and nothing in their history suggest major improvements are coming. BJ Upton and Uggla (at least in the past) are a little more patient but it really seems like hitting this bad is their new normal. There's only so much you can do with an average hovering around .220. The above taken for what it is, leaves the Braves in a bit of a problem spot. That's not enough offense to win.
The offense, then in effect, comes down to two guys - Heyward and Chris Johnson. Johnson is hard to read. The .321 average he put up last year was obviously a fluke, but the guy looked ok for .275 and 15 homers. If he gets back to that he's ok but if this year is a "correction" for 2013 then it's trouble (think Nats bench 2012 to 2013) His age (29) puts a drop in production, even one pretty large, a possibility. Heyward is even harder to read. The guy has talent and has shown it but he'll slump and it'll feel like he'll never come out of it. These arent your normal 2-3 weeks slumps either, his seem to last a long time, even season long. In 2011 he never really did bounce back after crashing in May. This has kept him from having that break-out year everyone, including me, thought he would soon after that rookie campaign.
If both these guys right the ship the Braves should have a passable offense. Good whenever Heyward is hot, struggling when he's not, but overall good enough. If either of these guys doesn't turn it around though... and well you're seeing what it looks like right now.
Is the pitching a fluke? Not like you probably hoped
Let's start with the bullpen. It's good. Not top to bottom good like the Nats but top to a floor or two above street level. Kimbrel, of course, and Walden shut down in the 8th and 9th. Avilan might be broken and Carpenter a bit over his head but Varvaro has good stuff and Schlosser's unlucky self was optioned out and replaced by Hale, who could really flourish. I'm not really seeing a weakness here.
The starting rotation's crazy good start was a fluke but that doesn't matter now with Minor and Floyd set to join the rotation. Minor is very good. Teheran is great. Santana could put up a 3.00 ERA moving AL-> NL. Wood at the very least can hang, if not thrive. Sure Harang will come back down to Earth and Floyd may not be good anymore but if those things happen, there's Hale ready to hold down a #5 spot. Are we willing to bet they are all going to do poorly? And even if they do that's just the 5th starter.
So the pitching being THIS good is a fluke, but the pitching being good is not. The rotation isn't going to carry a 2.50 ERA for the season but could it lead the NL? Certainly.
The Braves are either going to SF Giants 2010 and pitch their way to 90+ wins with just enough offense, or they are going to SF Giants 2011 and watch their offense keep the team just out of the playoffs. Either way they aren't a bad team in hiding. They are a good team that could be very good if Heyward and Johnson come around.
What I'm saying is that you shouldn't be hoping the Braves are in for a collapse. I don't see it happening. As bad as it is to lose 7 in a row the last 5 losses were by 1, 1, 2, 3, and 1 runs. A couple bloops fall in here and there and they go 2-5 and we're not even thinking about if they are in trouble.
And as a side note : The pitching is this good without Beachy and Medlen. Their aggressive re-signing policy might come back to haunt them later in the decade but that, and the one-year deals they've got on the books, means a lot of flexibility for the next couple years. At the very least it gives them an opportunity to attack this window and it could give them time to restock a thinned minor league system. You know what they say, to be the man you got to beat the man. The Braves remain the man in the NL East and will be until the Nats put up a couple pennants in a row.