A month into the season, it’s time for some revisions to my original statements regarding the Braves. First of all, the bullpen hasn’t quite lived up to its reputation, and even Wickman has been struggling of late (he’s been pulled from his last two appearances, now has two blown saves, and was recently placed on the DL for a “sore back”). This is worrying news, but the good news is that the front of the rotation has been excellent, with Smoltz and Hudson bearing 3.96 and 1.40 ERAs, respectively, and combining for a 6-1 record. While Aybar hasn’t proved to be nearly as “solid” as I first predicted (he’s now been indefinitely suspended for failing to show up to training sessions, probably due to a substance-abuse problem), Craig Wilson has provided good defense at first base and come up with a few clutch hits.
On the offensive front, Scott Thorman is really coming into his own (now batting .288 with 3 homers and 11 RBI), and Chipper’s currently-injury-free season has seen him play in every game so far and put up excellent numbers while doing so (.310, 8 HR, 17 RBI, and 18 BB). Jeff Francoeur has really picked things up and is currently red-hot, batting .306 with 5 HR and 25 RBI, but his most important contribution has been his remarkable ability to deliver runs with 2 outs. Kelly Johnson (.326), Renteria (.333), and McCann (.289) are also hitting well, and Johnson’s performance as a leadoff hitter has been outstanding.
As for the rest of the division, the Mets are earning their payroll but not doing anything spectacular, mainly due to their starting pitching. Florida is playing great, and although they’re one game under .500, they’ve proven to be capable of beating any team in the league. Their young players have some impressive talent. The Phillies and the Nationals have been sucking, and will probably continue to do so.
If the Braves can get some reliable starting pitching at the end of their rotation, and if Wickman can overcome his problems and regain the form that has made him so potent in the past, then the Braves have a legitimate shot at regaining the National League East title. Oh, and the Mets need to keep losing.