MLB Handicapping: Atlanta Braves Hot Start
by Trevor Whenham - 4/17/2013
The Atlanta Braves seemed like a logical sleeper pick heading into this baseball season. At 16/1 or so they packed some nice value in World Series futures. Well, you sure can’t sleep on them anymore. They are off to a scorching 12-1 start and have won their last 10 games. That has driven their futures odds way down to 8/1 — and at this rate they could fall further still. It has been impressive to watch so far, but is it sustainable? Does this team has what it takes to contend all the way until October? Let’s take a look:
The rotation seemed pretty good heading into the season. So far it has been mostly exceptional. Paul Maholm has been the star so far in not allowing a single run so far in three starts and 20.1 innings while amassing a microscopic WHIP of 0.79. He’s not alone, either. Mike Minor has had two great starts. Kris Medlen has had two strong outings. Tim Hudson is more than solid. All four of those guys are pitching beyond their capabilities, but they are all very talented and all have the potential to be very solid this year. The biggest question heading into the season was Julio Teheran, and so far the rookie has been a disappointment. His is an odd story. He was absolutely brilliant as a 20-year-old prospect, and was one of the top prospects in baseball. Nothing has gone right, though, and both his control and velocity have been lacking, and his breaking ball is laughably bad. He bounced back with a decent spring to earn this roster spot, but his first two outings have been lousy — though in both cases his teammates helped him out and won despite his struggles. He’s going to be a real problem for this team, but despite him this is a rotation that can compete.
The rotation has been good, but they can’t hold a candle to this exceptional bullpen. In 28 innings they have allowed just six earned runs. Craig Kimbrel is asserting his claim as the best closer in baseball with six saves and no earned runs so far. The rest of the unit is deep and talented, and they added Luis Ayala form the Orioles in a solid trade to add more depth. Incredibly, the Braves have allowed 10 fewer runs than any other team in baseball — and 53 fewer than the Angels — and this bullpen is a big part of the reason. It’s also a big part of the reason why this team is clearly going to be a contender.
The front office deserves a lot of credit here. The trade with the Diamondbacks which saw them send Martin Prado and prospect Randall Delgado to Phoenix for Justin Upton and Chris Johnson has been absolutely brilliant so far. Johnson leads the team with a .415 batting average, while Upton is amassing MVP numbers early on. That’s not the only good move, either. Adding Justin’s brother B.J. will pay off. Paul Maholm was so happy to be off of crappy teams — the seven years with the Pirates and half a year with the Cubs — that he has pitched like a superstar since joining the team late last year. Good management makes winning so much easier, and this team definitely has that.
Room for improvement
What’s impressive about this team is that they are playing so well but they clearly have plenty of room for improvement — especially at the plate. Dan Uggla is hitting just .178. B.J. Upton is at .152. Jason Heyward is struggling mightily at just .116. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons is the best of the group of strugglers, but at .216 he’s hardly contending for a batting title. Those guys can all hit better, and at some point they are going to. Combine that inevitable improvement with this pitching staff, and this is a team to fear.
There have been some tough spots on the schedule so far — they opened with two wins in three games against the Phillies then swept a series in Washington to really make a statement. They have also been able to beat up on some weaklings — the Cubs, Marlins and Royals. Their next series are against the Pirates and Rockies, so the streak can potentially continue for a while yet. The first three weeks of May are going to be a real test for this squad, though. They face four against Washington then the Mets, Reds, Giants, Diamondbacks, and Dodgers. If they are still going strong after that tough 20-game stretch then it will be easier to believe that the team is in it for the long run.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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