Braves may be best in franchise history
Well-balanced squad has clicked en route to 11-1 start to 2013 season
Larry Jones Sr. delivered the first response to a question about baseball's rising power in Atlanta. Then came thoughts from Larry Jones, Jr., otherwise known as Chipper.
Inquiring minds -- OK, me -- wanted to know whether these Braves with the explosive offense, suffocating pitching, crisp defense and just enough speed will have the stuff to rank as the most prolific "team" for the franchise during its 47 years in Atlanta.
"Actually, this may be the best Braves team since the days of Joe Adcock, and those of Eddie Mathews and of Lew Burdette and of Hank Aaron and of 'Spahn and Sain and pray for rain,'" said Larry Jones Sr., a rancher in Texas and an accomplished baseball historian. His reference was to the 1950s, when the Braves spent that stretch of their existence in Milwaukee making two World Series trips, winning one.
Come to think of it, why stop there? Before Milwaukee, the Braves were in Boston, where they began in 1871 as America's longest continuously operated professional sports franchise. They spent decades going from Braves to Red Caps to Beaneaters and then back to Braves.
So will these Braves evolve into a better "team" than any of their predecessors -- Atlanta or otherwise? We're talking about teams ranging from the 1875 one that won nearly 90 percent of its games (71-8) to the Miracle Braves of 1914 who shocked the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series to Chipper's 1995 bunch that won it all.
"From top to bottom, this Braves team certainly has the capability of being in that same conversation with some of the best in franchise history," said Chipper Jones, who retired from the Braves after last season as one of the game's all-time great switch-hitters.
Then Jones added quickly, "But let's give it a half [of a season], or a quarter anyways, because it's a long, long season."
Fair enough, but it has been great during the short, short start to the season for a Braves team that entered Tuesday night's game at Turner Field against the Kansas City Royals with outrageous numbers.
Only the Colorado Rockies had more homers in baseball to this point than the Braves' 20, and nobody had a better overall team ERA than their 1.82 mark. The same was true for the 1.30 ERA Braves relievers had posted. Justin Upton led the Major Leagues in homers with seven. Plus, Evan Gattis kept racing toward NL Rookie of the Year honors with a bunch of clutch moments to go along with his .324 batting average, four home runs and 10 RBIs in nine games.
If that wasn't enough, the Braves owned baseball's best record of 11-1 for their hottest start in 19 years.
It gets better. It's how the Braves have done this.
Perennial All-Star catcher Brian McCann has been joined on the disabled list for the Braves by first baseman Freddie Freeman and his smooth glove and powerful bat. Starting pitcher Brandon Beachy hasn't thrown all season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, and reliever Jonny Venters also has been out with an injury.
None of that has kept the Braves from dominating, even against the supposedly mighty Nationals, whom they swept last weekend in Washington. Neither have the Braves been hindered by the anemic batting averages of B.J. Upton, Jason Heyward and Dan Uggla, all sluggers in the middle of their lineup.
Which bring us to that "team" thing with these Braves.
"You certainly knew the starting rotation had the ability to do what it's done so far," Jones said. "You certainly knew the everyday lineup had the ability to do what it's done. You certainly knew the back end of the bullpen [with Craig Kimbrel] is as good as it gets.
"Where I have been impressed with this team is that the role players have been pressed into duty, and they've been responsible for some of these wins so far."
Besides Gattis -- the Braves' third-string catcher, by the way -- they've prospered with the obscure yet effective likes of Ramiro Pena, Jordan Schafer, Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco.
If Schafer isn't going 4-for-5 at the plate in his role as a fourth outfielder, Pena is delivering a game-winning homer, or Johnson or Francisco are providing clutch hits.
Sort of reminds Jones of another Braves "team" that prospered, not for a couple weeks, but through the end of October.
"That 1995 team. That was the most complete team I've seen for the Braves," Jones said of the Braves' only world championship team during their record streak of 14 consecutive division titles. "I know there was a lot of hype around those teams in the late 1990s, especially in 1998 with Andres Galarraga, Walt Weiss and some of those guys. But when you really think about it, 1995 was the most well-rounded ballclub from the standpoint of we could beat you a bunch of different ways.
"We hit a lot of long balls at the old bombing range across the street [Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium]. We didn't score a tremendous amount of runs, but more times than not, we beat you with pitching and defense and timely hitting."
These Braves do it much the same way.
The difference is, these Braves have an advantage over those Braves and most of their peers around the Major League this season: They can improve by just waiting.
"At the beginning of May, if you're the Braves, you're going to add a six-time All-Star catcher [McCann] who has won Silver Slugger Awards, and he gives you 20-something homers per year," Jones said. "Freeman is coming back. Then you're talking about the possibility of adding a talent like Beachy into the rotation later into the season. And they're going to get Venters back, and we know how dominant he can be.
"These are like trades. As good as the Braves are now, I feel like they're only going to get better."
Which is scary. Very scary.