4/13/2013 4:58 P.M. ET
Gattis' emergence just one key in Braves' fast start
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
Someone made up Evan Gattis, right? I mean, with Chipper Jones gone and all, the Braves needed a hero, so along comes this guy with his amazing personal journey and the strength of an ox. Good luck selling that screenplay. It's just all too perfect.
On the other hand, Gattis fits nicely because the Braves are also pretty special, having sprinted out of the gate with a 10-1 record, the best in baseball. They've opened up a three-game lead in the National League East, a division most people believed would belong to the Washington Nationals.
In the first series of the season between the two teams, the Braves rallied from a four-run deficit to win on Friday night in Washington and then followed that one up by defeating Stephen Strasburg on Saturday afternoon.
They've done it the way the Braves have done it a few times before. They've got one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. Offensively, they're pretty basic. They hit home runs. Lots of 'em. Only the Rockies have more.
Justin Upton is tied for the Major League lead with six and is also hitting .349. Gattis hit his fourth Saturday afternoon. Chris Johnson, acquired from Arizona to play first and third, is hitting .344. Once Jason Heyward and B.J. Upton get untracked, the Braves will be capable of putting on a monstrous show.
But it starts with pitching, and the Braves are plenty solid. Tim Hudson pitched seven strong innings on Saturday against the Nationals. Behind him: Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Paul Maholm. All of them are capable of helping a team get deep into October. And there's Craig Kimbrel at the back of a good bullpen.
Are they better than the Nationals? On paper, Washington would appear to be baseball's best team, and that's why they were picked to win the NL East. They seemed to have a rotation that's a little deeper than Atlanta's, and after adding Denard Span to the top of the lineup, there didn't seem to be any weaknesses.
That might be true of the Braves as well, even after the indefinite loss of setup man Jonny Venters to an elbow injury. General manager Frank Wren remade his club during the offseason by acquiring B.J. and Justin Upton and putting them beside Heyward in an outfield that might be the best in the game, or at least the best this side of Dodger Stadium.
In the wake of Chipper's retirement, Wren believed the Braves needed a new identity, and so that outfield is where it begins. Medlen and Minor could be the club's identity, too, after both established themselves last summer. And Maholm, a Trade Deadline pickup, has helped turn a decent rotation into a potentially dominant one.
And there's Gattis. He's 26 years old and one of those too-good-to-be-true stories that make every season better. He was 23 years old when he played his first Minor League game after a twisting journey that included battles with drugs and alcohol. He also worked a series of odd jobs, including a stint at Yellowstone National Park.
He found his way to the University of Texas Permian Basin, and the Braves used a 23rd-round pick on him in 2010. He rocketed from rookie ball to Double-A last season, and played his way onto the roster this spring.
Brian McCann's absence -- he's recovering from shoulder surgery -- gave Gattis a chance to make the Braves out of Spring Training. Wren signed Gerald Laird to be his backup catcher, and Gattis got the final roster spot by hitting .360 this spring.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez wrote Gattis' name on his lineup card in the second game of the season, and Gattis homered off Roy Halladay. He started again two days later and got three hits. And suddenly everyone knew his name.
He's 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, and the ball rockets off his bat. He has played so well that it'll be interesting to see how Gonzalez divides the playing time when McCann returns.
It's a long season, a marathon, etc. The Braves and Nationals will play 17 more times, including a mid-September series in Washington. So it would be a mistake to make too much of these opening rounds.
But if teams can make statements in April, the Braves are making a nice loud one, and Gattis is making the loudest one of all.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.