Were it not for the Washington Nationals, the Atlanta Braves would be in first place in the National League East, and hold the league's second best record. It not only shows how well the Nationals have played this season, but it also shows how little room for error there is atop the National League East. It has become very apparent to baseball fans everywhere that the Braves are a team to be reckoned with.
For most of the past 60 days, the Braves have remained in second place in the division standings and within reach of the Nationals. In July, the Nationals posted a 17-9 record , and the Braves were even better with an 18-8 month. In all likelihood, the two-horse race atop the division won't end anytime soon.
The Braves offense and bullpen have enabled them to stay in contention. Even though the offense is left-handed heavy, it is among the league's best. And it's full of young organization-developed talent such as Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann, and Martin Prado. The Braves score a lot of runs (third-highest total per game in the league), and draw a lot walks (second-most in the majors).
But starting pitching has been one of their most glaring weaknesses. A few weeks ago, General Manager Frank Wren tried to shore up that need by trying to trade for Ryan Dempster and adding left-hander Paul Maholm. Top starter Brandon Beachy is out for the season due to injury, as a result, the Braves have relied on inconsistent starters to help carry them. Amongst their six pitchers with the most starts this season, only two (Tim Hudson and Beachy) have an earned run average under 4.00.
If Maholm and Kris Medlen can strengthen the back end of the rotation, and Ben Sheets can continue his amazing comeback from injuries, the Braves will be in good position to remain in contention.
The Nationals have beaten the Braves 8 of 12 meetings, out-scoring them 68-47, despite the Braves success this season. The most recent series concluded with a four-game split. It was a very compelling back-and-forth set of games. And if that is a preview of what's to come, then we should be in for a real treat this week as the teams play a three-game series.