Are you buying Braves’ stock in the National League East? You still sold on the Phillies?
The Braves are alone atop a National League East race after winning for the 24th time in 35 games since that 0-4 start. Meanwhile, Brandon Beachy lowered his ERA to 1.33, best in the National League and the best for an Atlanta pitcher through eight starts since Greg Maddux was at 1.13 in 1994. How much do you like these Braves? They’re tied with the Cardinals for the most runs in the National League? Michael Bourn is a dynamic presence at the top of a lineup that’s really deep and really good.
If there’s a worry for the Braves, it could be the same one they had last season. Despite Beachy’s complete game Thursday night, Atlanta relievers have pitched the second-most innings in the National League, and only the Rockies have fewer quality starts. Atlanta’s rotation has just one starter older than 25 (Tim Hudson, 36), and it’ll be interesting to see how those young guys deal with the grind of a long season. Beachy has pitched at least seven innings in four of his last six starts and gone six the other two times, and Tim Hudson has been as reliable as ever (seven innings in two straight starts) since returning from the DL. Randall Delgado, 22, has a 1.33 ERA this month and has gotten at least into the seventh in two of his last three starts.
But Tommy Hanson has gone just 14 2/3 innings in five starts this month, and Mike Minor is 0-2 with an 11. 76 ERA in his last four starts. With Jair Jurrjens back in the minors attempting to get straightened out, there’s less margin for error. Still, it’s impossible not to be excited about the Braves. They did a good imitation of the National League’s best team for a long stretch last summer until injuries and slumps killed them in September.
Their usual starting eight has just two players who’ve celebrated 30th birthdays–Dan Uggla (32) and Chipper Jones (40). They’ve got three 22-year-olds–Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Tyler Pastornicky. GM Frank Wren has done a terrific job mixing youth and experience, and the Braves are still emerging.
Five teams are separated by four games in the National League East. The Phillies are in last place, but surviving just fine while awaiting the return of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. A case could be made for almost any of those five teams, so we appear to be in for nice ride into September.