As weird as it sounds, we are quickly approaching the end of the first quarter of the 2013 MLB season. The Braves came in with very high expectations, and it is safe to say that the team has not disappointed, as it currently sits in first place ahead of the Washington Nationals.
The Braves are just a game behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the best record in the game right now, so they certainly have the potential to have a special season. This article takes a look at six reasons why this year's Braves team appears to be destined for a berth in the World Series.
The Braves offense has been very solid to this point in the season, but we haven't really seen the team at full strength yet. Injuries have been a real theme so far this season, and nearly half of the lineup has missed time already.
All-Star catcher Brian McCann just made his season debut in the past few days after recovering from shoulder surgery.
While the team was prepared for McCann's absence, guys like Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward have missed significant time as well.
The lineup is in the middle of the pack in runs scored right now, but when everyone is playing, the team has the potential to be very dangerous.
When he was traded to the Braves, Justin Upton was billed as a potential MVP candidate. The young star was coming off a down season due to a thumb injury last year, but he produced a near MVP-caliber season in 2011.
So far this year, Upton has looked the part of potential MVP. He not only has come through with some clutch hits, but his 12 home runs lead all of Major League Baseball.
Upton is the type of dangerous hitter the Braves have not had in the middle of their lineup in a few years. He could put up 40 homers with 100 RBI while also getting on base at a very good clip.
While the Braves rotation has been very solid so far, there is a bit of a hole. That hole is in the final spot in the rotation, as rookie Julio Teheran has been up and down and has dealt with consistency issues from inning to inning at times.
The Braves already have someone to fill that hole, but they need him to get his elbow back up to 100 percent healthy before turning him loose on the National League. That pitcher, Brandon Beachy, was one of the best in the game a year ago before he hurt his elbow.
If Beachy pitches anything like the guy who went 5-5 with a 2.00 ERA last year, the Braves rotation will be tough on everyone, with five starters capable of winning the game for their team.
The Braves are off to a good start despite the fact that right fielder Jason Heyward has missed a few weeks. Not only has Heyward missed a few weeks, but when he was playing he wasn't the same player.
Heyward hasn't looked like the guy who hit .269 with 27 homers and 82 RBI last year. Instead, he's hitting just .121 with two homers and five RBI on the year. Before going on the disabled list, he made comments that he felt like he was getting closer to finding his swing, according to MLB.com's Mark Bowman.
Heyward can impact a game with power, speed, defense and his ability to get on base. If we get to see the real Heyward, then the Braves lineup adds a whole new dimension.
The best part of the injury to Brian McCann is the fact that power-hitting catcher, first baseman, outfielder and designated hitter Evan Gattis got everyday playing time in the first month of the season. The rookie has been a key part of what has the Braves in first place, as he already has seven homers.
With McCann back, Gattis won't get many starts at catcher. Plus, the presence of Freddie Freeman at first and the outfield of the Upton brothers and Jason Heyward means that Gattis will be a bat off the bench.
With his power, Gattis could be a real weapon as a pinch hitter and as a guy who gives the starters an occasional day off. That's something the Braves haven't had in a long time—a major source of power off the bench—and that kind of weapon could really help going forward.
To start this year, the Braves have looked very strong against division rival Washington, going 5-2. That is a nice improvement over last year, when the Braves managed to only go 8-10 on the season against the Nationals.
Playing well against the Nationals is huge because it will only help push the Braves further ahead of the Nats and could help them avoid a similar situation to last year, when the Braves were stuck in the play-in game. That could also help the Braves avoid the strongest team in baseball when they get to the playoffs, and it makes the path to the World Series a bit easier.