The Braves are in fine shape as we approach the final days of August and in to September. The odds of yet another September collapse are slim, as they were last season. This team looks different, though, than last year’s iteration. This year’s Braves are clearly better than every team with them in the wild card race with the possible exception of the Cardinals.
Atlanta is third in the National League in Baseball Reference’s Simple Rating System, which takes in to account run differential and strength of schedule. They are also third in Baseball Prospectus’ Third-Order Wins, another measure of a team based on underlying performance and schedule. After this weekend’s Giants series, the Braves will just have one series left against a division leader, Washington in mid-September. They do have one more series against Pittsburgh, a team hanging in the wild card race, though their underlying performance metrics indicate they are a mediocre team. For the most part, the Braves face non-contenders.
The Braves are also in better shape with their roster than they have been the past two seasons. Injuries almost cost them a playoff berth in 2010. Injuries played a big part in last season’s collapse. But Frank Wren and company seemed to have their bases covered this year. The starting pitching staff is six deep. The bullpen is well rested, thanks largely to the offensive bounce-back and avoiding too many close games.
There are quality back-ups at all the key positions. So unless several key players all go down at the same time, the team is in good shape to cover themselves in case of injuries, God forbid. Brian McCann isn’t fully healthy but David Ross has actually been quite a good hitter this season on the whole. Reed Johnson would do an adequate job in the outfield, if forced in to a starting role. Juan Francisco has slightly improved his awful approach enough to have some value if he needs to start. Andrelton Simmons is expected back in September so they’ll have two quality defensive shortstops. The Braves signed Lyle Overbay as a left-handed bat off the bench (Hinske looks done).
Anything can happen, as we saw last year. But this team is both talented and well-covered for the issues that have hurt them late the previous two seasons. Even with their recent skid, they are still in the driver’s seat. As they say, momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher…and the next day’s opponent. After the Giants series, the opponents start to look inferior.