When it comes to predictions, I'm not very good. Actually, I'm awful. But that doesn't stop me from making them. So after just 34 games, I'm making another fearless prediction: The Atlanta Braves will be in the playoffs.
That's right, the playoffs. Call me crazy if you want but this year's Braves team has all the makings not just a playoff contender, but a playoff participant. Through 34 games, they are an even 17-17 but they are much better than their record shows.
First off, the lineup is a good one. As of May 15, five regular players are hitting .300 or better. Among them is Casey Kotchman, who this past week, has really come through in the clutch for the team. New pickup David Ross has been a huge boost for the team, especially since Brian McCann has been going through vision problems. McCann seems to be playing well since wearing glasses but expect Ross to see an increase in playing time at catcher, thanks to his bat. Despite a mediocre average, Jeff Francouer is leading the team in RBI right now, which has to be a welcome sign. The only players truly struggling are Kelly Johnson and rookie Jordan Schafer. But it's only May, so there's plenty of time to turn it around.
But what really makes this team so good is the pitching. This rotation is one of the best, if not the best, since the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz era. Derek Lowe was signed as a free agent to be the ace of this team. So far, he's been just that, going 5-1 with a 3.80 ERA in just 8 starts. Javier Vazquez also came through free agency and despite boasting a modest 3-3 record, he has 5 quality starts, a 1.14 WHIP and an ERA under 4. The biggest surprise though has been Jair Jurrjens. At just 23 years old, he is budding into a true star. He is 3-2 in 8 starts and has the lowest ERA of any starter at 2.06.
The bullpen has been pretty good too. I admit, they've had some rough outings (especially Peter Moylan) but all in all, it's been good. The closing duo of Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano has combined for 9 saves and given up just 2 HR, which is a good thing. Plus, their strong starts should be re-assuring to fans that if one goes down due to injury, the other can take the role full-time and be just fine.
The final reason why I think this team will be a playoff team is that they are playing in a division that is wide open. The Phillies may be the defending champion but they are having some major pitching problems right now. The Mets are 10-3 in the month of May but we've seen the Mets do this before. They get off to a strong start just to fizzle out right when the postseason approaches. The Marlins got off to a real hot start in April but have since cooled. And as far as the Washington Nationals, well, they're just happy to have fans in the seats in D.C.
I'm not sure how many wins the Braves will get but I am confident that when the playoffs draw nearer, this team has what it takes to push through the pressure to either win the division or the wild card. If I'm wrong, so be it. I'm used to it by now.