published Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

Wiedmer: Let's hope Braves opener means nothing

Milwaukee Brewers' Logan Schaffer, left, Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez react after beating the Atlanta Braves in the Opening day baseball game Monday, March 31, 2014, in Milwaukee. The Brewers won 2-0.
Milwaukee Brewers' Logan Schaffer, left, Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez react after beating the Atlanta Braves in the Opening day baseball game Monday, March 31, 2014, in Milwaukee. The Brewers won 2-0.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

When it comes to the Atlanta Braves, let's hope there aren't 161 more games like Monday.

Clearly it's wrong to base any analysis of the these 2014 Braves on their 2-0 opening-day loss at Milwaukee. Whatever the reason, the Brewers seem to have our Bravos' number at the moment, having now won six of the last seven against Atlanta in Suds City.

But two sets of numbers from this one were eerily frustrating and familiar, even if Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and former player Brian Jordan insisted it wasn't so:

1. B.J. Upton went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts while stranding three baserunners.

2. Dan Uggla was likewise 0-for-4 in stranding three runners, though at least he didn't strike out one time.

When you wrapped up last year batting .184 (Upton) and .179 (Uggla), it won't take long for the Braves Nation to hope that another word beginning with the letter U soon attaches itself to this toothless twosome -- unemployed.

In fact, during Monday afternoon's telecast, one fans poll showed that 61 percent of respondents listed the offense produced by Struggla and B.J. as their No. 1 concern for this season.

Yet both Gonzalez and Jordan said after the game that they saw a complete U-turn in their play.

"Danny had some great at-bats the whole game," Gonzalez said. "The best I've seen in a long time."

Added Jordan in his role as television analyst: "The adjustment B.J.'s made in his [batting] stance will work out."

And perhaps it will. It's certainly a good sign that Uggla hit the ball solidly to both right field and left-center, a big improvement beyond the fact that he didn't strike out after leading the club in whiffs a year ago with 171.

Nor was all of this on the Braves. Milwaukee pitcher Yovani Gallardo turned in the kind of performance you expect from an opening-day pitcher, surrendering only four hits and striking out four in six innings.

Atlanta starter Julio Teheran was not far behind. He gave up only seven hits and two runs in six innings, numbers that will post victories in the weeks and months to come, though if Teheran remains the Braves' No. 1 starter, he'll also see more than a few opposing pitchers the rest of the year as strong or stronger than Gallardo was Monday.

Yet one can't help but wonder how good this team can really be with expected starters Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen already lost to Tommy John surgery and Rhea County's own Cory Gearrin possibly joining them -- a loss that would weaken the bullpen.

Especially with catcher Evan Gattis (two strikeouts) looking more pensive in his second season in the bigs and Freddie "Fat Cat" Freeman, he of the new eight-year, $135 million contract, turning in an 0-for-4 with a K. The majors are filled with guys who struggle to live up to nine-figure contracts -- Albert Pujols, anyone? -- and Freeman seems just sensitive enough to let outsized expectations shrink his numbers.

Actually, the bullpen may have provided the Braves' best Monday moments, given the shutout efforts of relievers Gus Schlosser and Ian Thomas.

"I thought they both did great," Gonzales said. "Schosser got a ground-ball double play, and for his first game, thrown into the fire the way he was, I thought Ian did a terrific job."

But it also said a lot about this performance that the highlight of the game, at least for Braves fans, was probably the timely execution of MLB's expanded video challenge system. Convinced that Ryan Braun had failed to beat a throw to first in the sixth inning, Gonzalez challenged. The replay confirmed his suspicion. Braun was called out.

The best thing about the replay, however, was that it took only 58 seconds. If only the NCAA men's basketball tournament replay system worked that efficiently.

Yes, it's only one game. And good pitching usually tops good hitting. And it's not as if the Braves have had much success against the Brewers on the road lately. One disappointing opening day does not a disappointing season make.

But with a few more oh-fers from B.J. and Struggla, the pitching staff might not be the only area the Braves will be forced to replace a couple of starters if they're legitimately to chase their third straight playoff berth.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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