The big news today, coming out of Twitter, is that the trade between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Atlanta Braves for Justin Upton has been finalized. A lot of people think that this has the Braves dangerously close to the Washington Nationals as they fight for the NL East title. Maybe I’m being naive, but after first hearing the news, I am not seeing the Braves as a big danger.
Let me preface this by saying: I am not accounting for injuries, unexpected struggles or anything else. I am talking about the teams, on paper, as of today. Can the Braves win the division this year? Sure. But I don’t think they are as good as the Nationals are on paper and until April, that’s really all we have to go by.
Have the Braves improved this off-season? Yes. They have Upton times two and traded a middling starting pitcher for a very good arm in the bullpen. They also lost Chipper Jones and have a question mark at third base, although it does look like a platoon is possible. They are definitely a playoff contender, but to beat the Nationals they will need great seasons from their starting pitchers and although Kris Medlen was great last year, I don’t know if he can do it for another whole year. And you still have Tim Hudson, Mike Minor and Paul Maholm who are anything but sure things. Then you have Brian McCann doubtful for the beginning of the season and a possibility Gerald Laird will be the starter come opening day.
The Nationals, on the other hand, have as solid a rotation as anyone in baseball subject to health of course. Their lineup is heading into Spring Training with no injuries and the biggest hole they had – leadoff and center field – has been filled. Their bullpen has as much depth as the Braves and their own three-headed monster. The Nationals are a team that is hoping for their already established young stars to take another step forward but the truth is, as long as they don’t take a step back they should still be atop the division.
So, all this to say that the Braves are a good team that got better. The Nationals are a very good team (as having the best record in baseball can attest) that got great. Yesterday, I would have said the Nationals would win the division. Today? I still say that. I’m not saying its a foregone conclusion – not by any means – but at least on paper, it’s not as close as it seems.
But, that’s why they play the games. Give us something to talk about. Bring it on.
What do you think? Who is the favorite to take the National League East? Can a third team cause trouble and surprise? Comment below!