Now 24 games in, it’s safe to say Atlanta opened the first month of 2017 season in roller-coaster fashion. After splitting the first two games of the year, the Braves dropped five straight. Then they opened SunTrust Park with four consecutive wins as part of five straight in the win column.
But with every up, comes a down. The Braves were chopped down six more times before finally winning again on April 26. Atlanta then stayed on the up for three more games before their four-game win streak was snapped on the final day of the month to finish with a record of 10-13 in April.
Now as the calendar turns to May, there are five reasons to believe that May flowers may bring more wins. With 29 games scheduled in May, could the Braves finish off the second month of the season three games above .500? Could they go 16-13 or better? The short answer, yes.
5. Chemistry — We’re not talking Bunsen burners and covalent bonds here. We’re talking about a manager and a team that finally has a large enough sample size of games to figure out an early identity in 2017. Brian Snitker already made one talking-point decision when he decided to move rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson down from the second spot in his lineup card to the bottom third. Now a month into the season, the skipper has a better idea of who he can rely on in certain situations. How he can stack the lineup to produce the most runs, know which guy coming out of the bullpen can get a starter out of a jam and who can come off the bench and deliver the clutch at-bat. For many teams, April is an extra extension of the spring and a time to find out what your made of. Now in May, it’s time to set yourself up for a mid-summer run.
4. The Spring Cleaning is Over — Atlanta committed 13 errors in April. That’s 13 blunders in the first 23 games. Consider nearly half of the Braves errors accrued when the Atlanta gloves mishandled six balls in a three-game sweep up in Pittsburgh, all of which lead to losses at PNC Park. There are signs the Braves have cleaned up their play since those three messy days in the first week of the season.
3. Kemp is Back -– This one doesn’t need a lengthy explanation. Matt Kemp missed 10 games in April dealing with a bad hamstring. In his first 10 games back, Kemp finished off the month of April going 10 for 40 at the plate with four homers and 12 RBI. A healthy Kemp is clearly a hearty bat for Snitker to pen in the lineup each night in May.
2. The Opponents –- The month starts with four games against a beat-up Mets team with two of their biggest stars on the DL, in outfielder Yoenis Cespedes’ out with a hamstring strain and Noah Syndergaard shelfed with possible elbow surgery on the horizon. Atlanta could split at least two of their four with the Mets this opening homestand of the month. Even after dropping their first game 7-5 in a back-and-forth battle with New York to open the month on Monday. Beyond the Mets, there’s three games at home against a St. Louis Cardinals team that enters May just 12-12 and is 4-6 on the road. The Braves also welcome in a struggling Pirates team in last place in the Central Division. Then Atlanta has four games against a Blue Jays team that is just 9-17 thus far. The month finishes out west against a San Francisco squad who is tied with Toronto for the second fewest wins in baseball to this point.
1. The Schedule -– May is homecoming for Snitker’s bunch. All the hype around a new park and of the Braves’ first 23 games, seven, yes seven were played in Atlanta. May offers the club 16 chances to play catch in Cobb County. Home cooking could help a team who hasn’t had the chance to really settle into its new digs yet. Even if the boys win just 70 percent of their home games this month, that would give them 11 wins and would mean they could finish the month with a 16-13 record, simply by going 2-13 on the road. Now granted, that means they would have to go 11-5 at home but 2-13 on the road is hard to do.
The Braves are one game into May, and while the Mets’ 7-5 win over Atlanta on Monday does set a bit of a dark tone into the outlook of the next month, the lights will still shine bright at SunTrust Park for 15 more home games. Don’t fret Braves Country, there are five reasons to believe this might be the month that helps define the season. Three games above .500 or better? Atlanta is 16 wins away from doing just that, and there are still 28 more chances. Grab a brew and a brat, “May”be the wins will start to blossom as the weather gets hot.