The Atlanta Braves currently sit in third place in the National League East and they are looking up at the Phillies, the home of the fearsome foursome, and the Marlins, who have two pitchers who can shut you down every time out. That would normally lead to some pessimism. But in this case, the Braves are in good shape because they started badly as a team and are still within striking distance of the wild card and of even the Phillies.
The Braves currently have the best pitching in the National League. The Phillies were vaunted for their pitching, but one of their Fab Four, Roy Oswalt, has not really joined the party. Worley could be a better fifth starter than Joe Blanton, but Blanton is making good money, so if he is healthy, he'll get the starts. The Braves, on the other hand have been rock solid one through five and can match the Phillies rotation game for game. The Phillies don't have near the bullpen the Braves have. If you are a Philly fan, do you hope that Brad Lidge comes back or do you hope against it? Tough call.
The Marlins have good pitching too. Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco can pile up the wins, but their rotation gets dicey after that. The Marlins have a good bullpen that rivals Atlanta's. But if you look at each team's bullpen, the Braves seem the better bet over the long haul.
The reason for Braves' optimism right now lies in the fact that they can pitch like no one this side of the Oakland Athletics AND their offense has underperformed to this point. Only Chipper Jones and Brian McCann have performed as expected. Well, to be honest, McCann's performance is always expected but Chipper Jones has been a nice surprise being able to play as much as he has. If he can play, he'll perform.
Dan Uggla is not going to finish the season with an 81 OPS+ like he has now. Even in his worst years, he's managed to compile a 111 OPS+. Jayson Heyward has seven homers, but you wouldn't expect him to hit .238 over the course of the season. So he hasn't really gotten going yet. Freddie Freeman is a rookie and you can say that you never know how that will turn out. But Freeman looks like he belongs and his 91 OPS+ is sure to improve along with his .228 batting average. And Martin Prado has compiled an OPS+ over 117 for three straight years. You wouldn't figure him to stay at 95 over the course of the season.
So the offense will pick up. They will have to keep their fingers crossed on Chipper's health. The bench besides Ross and Hinske has been suspect or nonexistent. That will have to get better. Or it means that the team lacks depth if injuries occur. But all in all, you have to expect the offense to pick up significantly. They do not appear to be an offensive team that right now sits in the bottom third of the league in effectiveness.
The Marlins and the Braves are one and two respectively in defensive efficiency so far this season (National League according to baseball-reference.com). The Phillies are fifth. But the Braves have a better fielding percentage than the Marlins. Chipper is the only real liability in that defense. The edge again goes to the Braves.
The Marlins have been a surprise. And that's despite a really slow start for Hanley Ramirez. And unless Ramirez turns into the next B. J. Upton, you'd expect for him to start hitting here soon. But Atlanta has the better overall rotation and should have the better bullpen over time. The Marlins have depended too heavily on guys like Emilio Bonifacio, who is performing well now and will come back to bite them. This Fan also thinks that Fredi Gonzalez is a better manager than Edwin Rodriguez and the Braves have a better front office.
The Phillies have the best overall talent in the division, but that margin isn't as wide as some would think. They should improve if Utley can come back and produce, but overall, they don't appear that much better than the Braves on paper. The Braves put a lot of people to sleep with their 12-15 April. But they are 6-1 in May and just won the series up in Philadelphia. Yes, the Braves are in very good shape and this should be an interesting summer in the NL East!