The Braves' great start
This is an article from the May 6, 2013 issue
Only one of the Upton brothers has hit—Justin, who had a line of .307/.398/.773 and 12 home runs through Sunday—but that was enough to lift Atlanta to 15 wins in its first 24 games. The real key has been the pitching, which leads the NL in runs allowed thanks to great command (7.1% walk rate) and a formidable bullpen (2.18 ERA in 701/3 innings). Justin Upton will cool off, but the Braves will hit a lot of long balls in support of what might be the NL's best staff.
The Nationals are a .500 team
The Nats, expected to be baseball's best, dropped nine of 13. But Washington has played half of its April slate against 2012 playoff teams—and that's the biggest factor in the slow start. There are concerns, such as third baseman Ryan Zimmerman's throwing woes and righthander Dan Haren's inability to miss bats, but the rest of the rotation has been strong (2.85 ERA), and Bryce Harper is playing like the best player in baseball (.360/.444/.756). The Nationals will join the Braves in a great NL East duel.
Chris Davis is Crush Davis
Look past the nine homers, the .349 average, the .756 slugging percentage. Davis has changed at the plate: He's chasing fewer pitches out of the strike zone (32%, down from 46% two years ago) and giving himself more opportunities. In his career Davis has gotten to 2--0 in 12% of his plate appearances; this year he's seeing 2--0 counts nearly twice as often (23%). That patience is the key to unlocking his power.
The Rockies are a contender
Colorado is in first place on the strength of a league-leading 127 runs scored. It has an above-average offense that will play half its games in Coors Field, and if Dexter Fowler's breakout (.295/.398/.602) continues, the Rockies could score 900 runs. The flip side: a staff that is 12th in the league at 108 runs allowed and has been generally terrible—13th in strikeouts, 11th in walks, 14th in strikeout-to-walk ratio. Colorado's run prevention will only get worse, and the Rockies will crumble.
The Strikeout Era continues
More than one of every five hitters to come to the plate this season has struck out. In the seventh through ninth innings—the province of one-inning relievers—more than 21% of batters have whiffed. Increased specialization has turned the late innings into a K parade, and there's no sign that the trend is abating.
Jake Westbrook's ERA
His 0.98 mark is pretty ... and possibly the luckiest stat in the game this season. In 272/3 innings Westbrook has walked 14 and struck out 14, while allowing just an .059 batting average—an .071 BABIP—with runners in scoring position. Those balls in play will eventually start falling in, and Westbrook's ERA will rise dramatically.