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Inbox: What is Braves' biggest surprise of '17?

Beat reporter Mark Bowman answers questions from Atlanta fans
MLB.com @mlbbowman

What's the biggest surprise to you so far? Pleasant and not so pleasant?
-- @A_A_ron_Smith

Look, we all know that the bench has managed to be even more problematic than envisioned, and that the bullpen has had its fair share of shaky outings. But many of these warts might have been less noticeable with some more consistent production from leadoff hitter Ender Inciarte, who has a .238 on-base percentage through the first 18 games.

What's the biggest surprise to you so far? Pleasant and not so pleasant?
-- @A_A_ron_Smith

Look, we all know that the bench has managed to be even more problematic than envisioned, and that the bullpen has had its fair share of shaky outings. But many of these warts might have been less noticeable with some more consistent production from leadoff hitter Ender Inciarte, who has a .238 on-base percentage through the first 18 games.

When Inciarte produced a .398 OBP while setting the table for Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp over the final 56 games of 2016, the Braves averaged 5.2 runs per game and went 31-25. But as the Gold Glove center fielder has struggled through this year's first three weeks, and the Braves received little from Dansby Swanson as he sat in the two-hole, the potential value of Freeman's sensational start (1.303 OPS) has been significantly minimized.

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It was fun to see Inciarte hit those four homers within a four-game span, but when that homer total accounts for a quarter of your leadoff hitter's hits through 77 at-bats and also exceeds his walk total (3), it's easy to see why this is a problem, one I certainly didn't anticipate the Braves dealing with during the early part of this season.

As for the pleasant surprise, I touted Mike Foltynewicz as this year's breakout player and mentioned he would make the most significant strides this year. So, maybe it's not necessarily a surprise, but now that he has impressed us with the front-line stuff he's shown during these past two starts, we at least have to consider his progress to be this season's most encouraging development.

Video: SD@ATL: Flowers plates two with an RBI single

How much longer will the Braves continue with this bench that has been, putting it politely, ineffective?
-- @jamesh17

Ryan Howard's arrival is on the horizon, but the Braves have to make changes immediately. So don't be surprised if they add Lane Adams to the bench as early as Tuesday. Adams has tallied four home runs and produced a .940 OPS through 54 plate appearances for Triple-A Gwinnett.

The right-handed-hitting Adams has the capability to play all three outfield spots, so the Braves could have him fill the roster spot currently occupied by either Emilio Bonifacio or Chase d'Arnaud, who are both out of options.

It was nice of you to remain polite, but I'm not sure it was necessary when speaking about a bench that has generated five baserunners (two hits and three walks) through this year's first 32 pinch-hit plate appearances. And it should be mentioned that starting catcher Tyler Flowers has accounted for a majority of this production, going 1-for-4 with two walks as a pinch hitter. The only other hit was recorded by Johan Camargo, who is now back at Triple-A.

Bonifacio, who has compiled a .407 OPS since the start of the 2015 season, has drawn a team-high 12 pinch-hit plate appearances. That sentence alone seems problematic. But it should also be noted he hasn't recorded a hit or drawn a walk in any of them.

Video: ATL@PHI: Swanson delivers single in 10th

Is Swanson truly running into bad luck, or was he just one at-bat shy of a sophomore slump?
-- @Greene_MLB

There's no doubt some tough luck has influenced the .139/.162/.194 slash line Swanson has through his first 18 games. He has produced an exit velocity greater than or equal to 100 mph with 15 of the balls he has put in play. Freeman is the only Braves player to have done so more frequently. But while Freeman has gone 17-for-19 on these balls, Swanson has gone 7-for-15.

But as Swanson progresses through the early part of his second full professional season, he is struggling against breaking balls. Per the Statcast™ data available on baseballsavant.com, the 23-year-old shortstop has hit .180 (9-for-50) in at-bats that have concluded with a fastball and .048 (1-for-21) in at-bats that have concluded with an offspeed pitch. As Swanson had a .302 batting average after being called up to the Majors from Double-A Mississippi in 2016, he batted .353 (30-for-85) in at-bats that ended with a fastball and .205 (9-for-44) in at-bats that concluded with an offspeed pitch.

We knew teams would make their adjustments, and now Swanson will continue to make his. His psyche hasn't been damaged as Freeman, Kemp and other veterans have aided him through this early-season slump. Now he might feel a little less pressure as he moves down to the lineup's No. 8 spot, where he slashed .333/.380/.456 over 101 plate appearances this past season.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves