Reasons the Atlanta Braves Will Continue Their Hot Start to the Season
Some stellar pitching, power ball and a 10-game winning streak have propelled the team to the start.
Can the Braves keep it up?
There will be ups and downs, but the Braves appear to be a team that can keep playing at a high level.
They won't win 120 games as they're on pace for, but winning 100 games is attainable.
1. Left-Handed Duo
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The Braves lead the MLB in team ERA, largely in part to the performances of left-handers Paul Maholm and Mike Minor.
Maholm began the year throwing 25 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball en route to a 3-1 record and National League-leading 1.03 ERA.
His counterpart, Minor, finds himself in the top 10 in the National League with a 1.80 ERA and holds an impressive 21 strikeouts to just three walks.
Maholm enters 2013 in the last year of his contract and is pitching with a chip on his shoulder.
Meanwhile, Minor's confidence post-All Star Break in 2012 has continued into 2013, and he recently got the win at the not-so friendly Coors Field.
These two left-handers continue to impress, and I'm a believer in both having successful 2013 campaigns.
2. MVP Candidate
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Yes, it's early, but Justin Upton is having an MVP-type season.
Through 21 games, Upton has belted an MLB-leading 11 home runs and has driven in 16 runs.
In a 162-game season, a stud in the middle of the order has a huge impact over the course of the season.
Opponent managers have to game-plan around a guy like Upton. Do you attack him? How do you attack him? Do you pitch around him?
This wears on a pitcher throughout a game and team throughout a series.
Upton looks well on his way to a 40-home run season and will anchor the middle of the order all season for the Braves.
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The Braves have amazingly jumped out to this great start without playing a single game with their entire starting lineup.
Catcher Brian McCann should return soon from his shoulder surgery to give the Braves some great catching options.
Brandon Beachy was on his way to a career year in 2012 before his arm injury and should return around July.
The Braves have won without McCann and Beachy as well as a majority without Freddie Freeman, who could be the best pure hitter on the team.
Now, starting left fielder Jason Heyward has been put on the disabled list after undergoing an emergency appendectomy.
This is not ideal but is building strong depth.
It takes a strong, deep roster to continue high-level play for 162 games.
4. Third Base Solidified
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A huge question mark entering the 2013 season was who would take over for Chipper Jones at third base.
Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco have actually outperformed Jones in 2012 to this point in 2013.
All Johnson has done is lead the MLB with a .397 batting average entering Thursday.
Meanwhile, Francisco has hit four home runs and has driven in 11 (both third on the team) while hitting at a .316 clip.
Not too shabby for two vastly unproven players.
Their strong play has helped to give manager Fredi Gonzalez some good options in the middle of the order.
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Despite the bullpen blowing the game on Wednesday against Colorado, they still remain the strongest link of the 2013 Braves.
They still lead the majors in the early going with a 1.60 ERA entering Thursday.
The depth of this bullpen makes it so strong.
Closer Craig Kimbrel is one of the best in baseball, and the same can be said for set-up man Eric O'Flaherty.
Luis Avilan has emerged as a very reliable pitcher in getting out both right-handed and left-handed hitters.
Cory Gearrin has yet to allow an earned run in 2013, and right-handers Jordan Walden and Luis Ayala are good right-handed specialists.
If the Braves get to the end of games in a tie or leading, the bullpen will take care of the rest more times than not in 2013.