Are The Braves The Best In The National League?
HAVE ATLANTA BRAVES BECOME BEST IN THE NATIONAL LEAGUE?
That Atlanta Braves are off to a fantastic start in the 2013 Major League season. They start a four-game series Thursday Night in Pittsburgh with a 12-2 record, which has them well ahead in their division (NL East) and well ahead of the teams who were "supposed" to be contending for the NL pennant this year.
One of those teams, the Washington Nationals, lost three straight at home to Atlanta last weekend...which was about as dramatic a statement as you could imagine this early in the season. The Braves announced to the world they were a force to be reckoned with. Washington's whimper was a statement in and of itself.
We certainly respect what the Braves have done. But, there are many reasons why handicappers should expect a regression in the coming days. Maybe it won't happen this weekend against the mediocre Pirates. But, there's just too much going on right now that can't hold up.
Atlanta's enjoyed a friendly travel schedule so far, with 9 of their first 15 games played at home...and three of their six road games coming against horrible Miami (which is a short trip from Atlanta relatively speaking).
Atlanta's enjoyed a friendly opponent schedule so far, drawing Chicago and Miami within their first 15, as well as opening with a Philadelphia team that's having trouble getting its bats in gear. The wins in Washington were truly impressive. The schedule as a whole hasn't been impressive.
The starting rotation is pitching lights out to a degree that couldn't possibly hold up.
Maholm: 0 earned runs allowed in 20.1 innings
Minor: 2 earned runs allowed in 19 innings
Medlen: 3 earned runs allowed in 19 innings
Hudson: 5 earned runs allowed in 18 innings
That 5 in 18 for Hudson looks normal, but it reflects an ERA of 2.50. He's likely to be about a run higher than that for the season. The other guys are known quantities. They belong in a rotation...but they're NOT all Cy Young candidates to the degree those early numbers would suggest.
The "M&M&M" boys have allowed only 5 earned runs in 58.1 innings! That's a combined ERA of 0.77!
Atlanta was projected to win about 87-88 games entering the season according to the legal betting markets. Maybe you can push that up to 92-93 based on the quality we've seen so far...and the fact that Miami may be so horrible that everyone in the NL East is going to win a few more games than expected now in the unbalanced schedules. Don't assume this hot start means the Braves are now a 100-win team that's going to dominate the league. Many a team has faded after a hot first two weeks of the season. We like what we see here...but the early record is misleading, as is usually the case with early extremes.
JIM HURLEY is watching this situation closely for line value. You can make a lot of money riding surges when a team catches Vegas oddsmakers by surprise. But, you can also make a lot of money fading those very same teams when they fall back to earth after the lines adjust. Pittsburgh/Atlanta may be an important part of the sports weekend. But, there are other great series ahead...and the start of the NBA playoffs will certainly be grabbing sports headlines too.
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