Watch out for the Braves

As Mark Bradley writes, suddenly these Braves are looking like contenders:

    I'm starting, again, to think this is going to happen. I thought the Braves were a playoff team when they left Lake Buena Vista, and then I watched the first 80 games and thought, "Wrong again, Brad.” (Bobby Cox, as you know, calls me "Brad.”) But now they've won six of seven and they just beat Tim Lincecum and I'm back to where I was in the spring.
    The 2009 Atlanta Braves. A wild-card team.

    Only three back in the WC standings, if you'd care to check.


    This isn't the same team we saw in May, both figuratively and literally. Jordan Schafer and Kelly Johnson are in Class AAA and Jeff Francoeur is a Met. Those were, as a multitude of you pointed out, the biggest holes in an unassuming batting order. But now Martin Prado is hitting like Pete Rose and Francoeur isn't killing innings and Nate McLouth is providing professional, as opposed to amateurish, at-bats. And did I mention that the pitching is still great?

Wild card? Sure. But why stop there?
OK, so the Braves probably aren't going to make up the five-and-a-half games currently separating them from the Phillies. Two months and one week just isn't enough time, probably. But when you look at the Braves, where are the weaknesses? I see one: first base, where Casey Kotchman continues to make his case as a league-average hitter (and thus a below-average first baseman). Oh, and also left field, where Garret Anderson is doing exactly what he did last year (being an average hitter and a below-average left fielder; what's with these ex-Angels, anyway?).

But when your biggest weaknesses are a couple of league-average hitters ... well, you can cope. My only concern about the Braves is that four of their starting pitchers have unimpressive strikeout-to-walk ratios -- Javier Vazquez being the notable exception, as his K/BB is off the charts -- and yet they're thriving because nobody in the rotation has given up even one whole home run per nine innings. The whole staff has allowed only 62 homers all season, which is easily the fewest in the National League.

I believe the Braves hitters are for real. If their pitchers' apparent ability to shut down the opposition power game is for real, I'm not at all sure why this team isn't one of the three or four best, right now, in the league.

(H/T: BTF's Newsstand)