Week 1: For starters, Braves are the worst

The San Diego lost their first three games this year, didn’t score in any of them and signed James Loney, a first baseman whose OPS didn’t reach .700 last year, because they thought he could help their offense. The Padres aren’t the worst team in baseball.

The Phillies lost their first four games, blew late-inning leads in two of them and started an outfield that finished Sunday with an average of .460 — combined. But the Phillies aren’t the worst team in baseball.

The Twins lost their first six games, three by one run and two by two runs and have scored just 12 runs all seasons, which has been done nine times by teams in a single game this season (including twice by the previously woebegone Padres, even if they needed Coors Field and Rockies pitching to do it). The Twins aren’t the worst team in baseball, but we’re getting closer.

That dishonor belongs to the Braves, who have lost their first five games, all at home, given up 24 runs in their last two and are an MLB worst -21 in run differential. They’ve led four of their five losses in the seventh inning or later, and still been outscored by more than four runs a game.

This is the last season the Braves will play in Turner Stadium and if the city of Atlanta demolishes it at some future date, you have to wonder if Braves fans will care if the team — with the possible exception of Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran — is inside when it does.

This is all apparently not a bad thing to Braves management, which is trying to acquire on merit this season what they took by swindle from the Diamondbacks after the last: the No. 1 pick in the next amateur draft.

Apparently the No. 3 pick the Braves have this year isn’t good enough.

The Braves have talked a good game in the offseason about competing and being “fun to dance with,” but it’s apparently been a while since they’ve gone clubbing. The Braves’ transactions have been as transparent as the NBA’s 76ers. If Sam Hinkie is a baseball fan, he can appreciate the Braves better than most of their fans; now that he’s out of work, if his resume is updated, he can send it to the Braves, who would appreciate it.

Braves pitchers, most of whom were acquired second hand, have a 6.65 ERA; Braves hitters are batting .198 and have a .290 slugging percentage. Even more depressing, rookie reliever Dan Winkler, who had faced eight batters and fanned four of them, left Sunday’s game with a fractured elbow. The unfortunate Winkler missed most of last season after Tommy John surgery; now it looks as if he’ll miss the rest of this one, too.

The Braves won just 67 games last season and played to a .414 percentage, only their third losing season in the last 25. They may be worse this year, but the good news is they won’t be the worst in franchise history, not as long as the 1935 Boston Braves are in the book.

The ’35 Braves lost 115 games and won just 38 and finished 61-and-a-half games out of first place. After the season they changed their name to the Boston Bees, as if that alias would obscure who they were (if only Ben Cantwell had that opportunity to go Fausto Carmona on MLB. Cantwell led the NL in losses in 1935 with 25 and won just four games only two seasons after he won 20).

The Braves will be merely changing their residence after this season is over.

Elsewhere from the first week:

  • The Cubs haven’t won the World Series in 108 years and they may not this year. But the loss of Kyle Schwarber (knee) for the season shouldn’t be why. Schwarber is an exciting young hitter with a career minor-league OPS of 1.042 and five postseason home runs last year in nine games. But Schwarber also hit just .246 last year in 232 at-bats, and though it’s safe to assume he’d have done better in 2016, and better than his replacement, Jorge Soler, will, the latter is far better defensively and running the bases. On the Cubs’ opening-day lineup, it’s not unreasonable to project that a healthy Schwarber might have been fifth this year in WAR, maybe sixth if you add Jason Heyward (to Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell). Schwarber’s injury is a blow, and the kind of thing that happens to a team that’s been cursed by a billy goat. But it shouldn’t preclude the Cubs from winning it all. They’re still the best team in MLB.
  • Notorious Toronto bat-flipper Jose Bautista played a Hanley Ramirez single into a triple Saturday when he allowed the ball to bounce over his head. Wonder how many Rangers fan were thinking he should have flipped his glove at it.
  • The Red Sox were postponed at Cleveland on Thursday, and instead of skipping fifth starter Steven Wright (who is only the fifth starter because Eduardo Rodriguez is hurt), manager John Farrell pushed No. 1 David Price back a day. Price could have pitched Sunday at Toronto on four days rest; instead he started the home opener against Baltimore Monday on five. Memo to Farrell: the reason your team is paying Price $30 million a year is to get Price as many starts as possible, not to defer to Steven Wright.
  • The first four batters Texas reliever Tom Wilhelmsen faced this year went homer-double-double-homer. Hitting the fifth was a marked improvement, though it got Wilhelmsen ejected.
  • Wilhelmsen was effective compared to Texas closer Shawn Tolleson. After a 1-2-3 save in the opener, Tolleson gave up six straight hits –five to turn a 5-4 lead over the Mariners into a 9-5 loss and a sixth to Albert Pujols for the game-winner in a 4-3 Angels triumph. The Rangers’ bullpen, heading into play Monday, was 0-3 with a 6.98 ERA, the latter just 27th in ERA.
  • Overheard on the Yankees’ broadcast of their home opener Tuesday was a mention of Houston starter Dallas Keuchel’s road record in 2015 — just 5-8 with a 3.77 ERA compared to 15-0 with a 1.46 ERA at home. Fair enough. Left unmentioned was Keuchel’s postseason start on the road — a three-hitter over six shutout innings with seven strikeouts. Given that it was a 3-0 victory in the wild-card game at Yankee Stadium, you’d think it wouldn’t have escaped the notice of Yankees broadcasters.
  • The Yankees lost their home opener Tuesday when reliever Dellin Betances fielded Carlos Correa’s infield roller and overthrew first baseman Mark Texieira as Correa ran not only out of the baseline but a foot or more inside the grass. The go-ahead run scored and the Yankees lost both the argument and the game. There’s still nearly six months to go, but it will be hard to top this for worst explanation of 2016. From umpire Dana Demuth, according to usatoday.com: “My explanation on the call was in my judgment he (Correa) didn’t impede or hinder the first baseman from fielding the ball. The pitcher launched it, threw it off to right field…. (Correa) is fine unless he impedes or hinders the first baseman or actually a fielder from making a play at first base, and he didn’t. That ball was so high that in my judgment, it was just an error, a bad throw.” Apparently it never occurred to Demuth that Correa hindered the throw by being where he was and where he’s not allowed to be and Demuth never explained how else Betances was supposed to get the ball to Teixeira with Correa in the way. Somebody should ask Demuth if he’d be impeded from throwing a ball out to the pitcher if the catcher was standing between them. More Demuth: “Do it. Throw it into the runner’s back. Because then what’s happening? He is impeding.” Maybe we should all be happy Demuth didn’t go to law school.
  • Matt Bowman of Princeton made his major-league debut with two scoreless innings against the Pirates. By an unoffical count this gives us three Tigers, all pitchers — Bowman, the Royals’ Chris Young and Ross Ohlendorf — in the majors, with two former major leaguers, outfielder Will Venable and David Hale, in AAA. And  with Yale’s Craig Breslow and Dartmouth’s Kyle Hendricks, five Ivy League players and one manager (Brad Ausmus) started the season in the majors.
  • Ausmus was ejected Saturday in the sixth inning with the Tigers losing to the Yankees, 8-2, and the temperature. No surprise a manager from Dartmouth would know how to deal with the cold.



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