Wednesday, April 17, 2013

There Is A Very Real Chance That The Braves Have Already Won The NL East

They Hit The Ball Real Hard
Tonight in Atlanta, the Braves won their 10th straight game with a late power barrage -- Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Dan Uggla -- to move to 12-1. Their only loss this year was to Cliff Lee; they've beaten everyone else they've faced. And the thing about hot starts like this is that they frequently speak to a team that really is at a different and higher level of talent and performance.

Consider this: the Braves have the record that they do with their starting catcher, Brian McCann, not on the active roster. Their best set up man, Johnny Venters, is also on the shelf. Uggla is hitting .178, and Heyward is at .116. BJ Upton is at .152. And sure, some of this is always going to happen, even in streaks, and it's not like Justin Upton is going to stay at .340 all year... but we're talking about a third of the lineup pretty much being auto-outs, and they've still won 12 of 13. That just should not happen, really.

They are doing it, of course, with pitching: the team's collective ERA is 1.82, and the WHIP is an ungodly 1.01. Paul Maholm has been one of the best pitchers in the NL, but with the exception of Julio Teheran, they really have't had a bad start from anyone. But with a rotation where Teheran is no more than #5 starter, assuming Maholm stays above the median, that's far from fatal. Mike Minor looks like a post-hype stud, Kris Medlen isn't giving too much back from his breakthrough year, and Tim Hudson has always been a  quality innings eater, along with a guy who's putting together a very nice under the radar Hall of Fame career. (He's currently 199-104, with a 3.41 ERA, 25 CGs and 13 SOs, which in this day and age is downright amazing. At 37, he doesn't have a ton of time to rack up another 100 wins, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility.) And if you are behind to this team, you lose, since Craig Kimbrel is downright inhuman right now.

It also doesn't hurt their chances that the rest of the NL East looks very mediocre right now. Washington is 8-6 with a negative run differential, and have a terrible problem in the middle of their rotation in Dan Haren. The Mets are 7-6, but look like a night and day team, depending on which pitcher is on the mound. Philly is 6-7, but haven't hit at all on the current road trip, and might need Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan to pitch above their slots if Roy Halladay can't reinvent himself. And Miami is, well, a team that screams out for relegation.

Atlanta does have, of course, a history of outright chokery in this century, and the pitching isn't likely to stay at this level all year... but, well, the hitting could get better, and the bullpen's capable of staying at this level all year. If the rest of the division doesn't start taking some games from these guys, and fast, the current 4.5 game lead may not ever tighten up. That's what teams with a margin for error do, and right now, Atlanta is the only team in the East that is so blessed.


jkbraves10 said...

You didn't mention that there best hitter is on the dl Freddie Freeman, but will be back soon!!

DMtShooter said...

Solid point. This could be a 100-win team; not sure anyone else in the division is cracking 90.

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