Atlanta Braves: Do They Have Enough Depth to Compete in the NL East?

Foster LanderContributor IIIApril 10, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 05:  Jason Heyward #22 of the Atlanta Braves greets his teammates during player introductions against the New York Mets during their Opening Day Game at Citi Field on April 5, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
Chris Chambers/Getty Images

I’ll be the first to admit that maintaining a level head as a fan, especially after a disheartening 0-4 start, is not always easy.

It’s understandable that Atlanta Braves fans have found the nearest tall structure from which to jump. It’s understandable that those fans would lose sight of the fact that the Braves have played four games in a 162-game season.

Putting allegiances aside, let’s take a step back and assess the squad Frank Wren has put together. Blasphemy, right?

Just so we’re clear, the question at hand is whether Atlanta has enough depth to compete in the National League East.

In short: The Braves do, in fact, possess the ability to keep up in the playoff race. Can they win the division, let alone the Wild Card? Ask me again in June.

Organizational depth is a funny thing, and not in a red-in-the-face-laughing kind of way. Funny in that the Braves were sure they had plenty of pitching depth several months ago; of course, that was before Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens went under the knife for various ailments and before young Arodys Vizcaino made a fateful visit to Dr. James Andrews at the start of spring training.

Of course, the Braves are lucky they have talented young arms. Most franchises, if confronted with such rotation uncertainty, would have to look outside of the organization for a solution.

The presence of Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor helps to ease concerns about Atlanta’s pitching.

Sorry to be the bearer of good news first (cruel, I know.)

Now, here’s where Braves fans should worry.

Chipper Jones, Martin Prado, Brian McCann and Jason Heyward all missed significant time due to injury last season. Who’s to say one or several of those same players won’t be forced to the disabled list again? (Jones is the lone exclusion. His body is only programmed to play 130 games at this point.)

If Chipper and Prado are out at the same time, who plays third base? Juan Francisco may be able to hit the ball out of Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark, but the art of fielding and throwing seems to be lost on the crooked-hat-wearing Dominican.

The Braves will be in a bind if Dan Uggla goes down—and that’s before we consider the possibility of another epic slump.

The Braves will find themselves halfway up El Capitan with no rope or climbing shoes should their lineup regulars get acquainted with the DL like they did last season.

These opinions don’t stem solely from a strange and frustrating start to a season the Braves could ill-afford to begin slowly. Four games is a small sample size even by NFL standards.

No, the same Atlanta team that went 80-55 to start the season, then floundered down the stretch, remains largely intact. Which Braves team will show up?

In a perfect world, the Braves keep their lineup healthy and see Hudson, Hanson and Jurrjens return to the form they displayed before the 2011 All-Star Break. Too bad this world’s not perfect.