Worry about the Braves in July, not now

The Braves are 6-7 after a 5-1 start to the season. Is there reason to panic? The Braves Show's Bill Shanks says no.

The last week has not been very fun if you are an Atlanta Braves fan. After a good first week, when the Braves went 5-1, a five-game losing streak has both brought the team back down to Earth and caused fans to have serious questions about this club.

Now, look, there's still a lot of baseball left to play. It's not like the Braves have not shown us they can play good baseball. But that panicky feeling is natural when you see the Braves struggle against teams like the Pirates and last night against the Nationals.

Perhaps this is what we should expect. If the Braves are more like a .500 team, then this is what we will see for a while. They will have a good week, followed by a bad week. They'll look like they're getting ready to turn the corner, and then you'll wonder if they'll ever win again.

In many ways a team that hovers around .500 is more frustrating to watch than a losing team. If a team is just bad, as the Braves were especially late last season, you're going to know it. You'll know they won't be very competitive. But a .500 team will tease you.

And that's what we might see from the Braves for a while. It might take this club half a season to find itself. It might take this club half a season to answer many lingering questions. It might take this club half a season to click.

The starting rotation has been okay, with seven quality starts in the first 13 games. But we all know how shaky the bullpen has been, and until it shows consistency those questions will linger.

Closer Mike Gonzalez just doesn't look right. He doesn't necessarily look horrible, but he hasn't looked like the effective reliever we've seen in the past. You wonder if Rafael Soriano, who has looked good, could take over as the closer in the next few weeks.

Blaine Boyer was pretty bad in his first three games, and Monday the Braves traded him to St. Louis after designating him for assignment on Saturday. That means Peter Moylan, who has looked like he needed more time to recover from Tommy John surgery, has got to step up and be more effective.

Kris Medlen is a name to keep in mind. He almost made the big league roster out of spring training, but the Braves sent him to Triple-A Gwinnett to start the year. Medlen has a 1.32 ERA in his first three games, with only one walk and 16 strikeouts in 13.2 innings. Medlen could be an option in the next few weeks if the pen continues to struggle.

The offense, as evidenced with the two shutouts in Pittsburgh over the weekend, is definitely going to be an issue. The combination of having the two best hitters (Brian McCann and Chipper Jones) out of the lineup at times and plain ole inconsistency from the others has resulted in mediocre run production.

And make no mistake about it if the Braves lose Brian McCann due to his blurry vision for an extended period of time, this team could be in trouble. And there is little doubt that when Chipper Jones is out of the lineup, this team is just not the same.

The lineup construction by Bobby Cox has been peculiar so far. Casey Kotchman hitting cleanup? When is Jordan Schafer going to lead off? Shouldn't Kelly Johnson be hitting lower in the order?

But there is time for all of those questions to be answered. There are still 149 games left to go in the season, so there's no reason to panic. That's easier said than done, but it's just something we fans have to do over the course of 162 games.

Be patient.

Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly baseball column for The Macon Telegraph and is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

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