Behold the ranks of the Braves' pitching staff in the National League 1/5th of the way into the season:
Lowest ERA - 1st
Fewest Hits Allowed - 1st
Fewest Home Runs Allowed - 1st
Fewest Walks Allowed - 4th
Most Strikeouts - 8th
K/9 - 3rd
Lowest Opponent's Batting Average - 2nd
Lowest Opponent's On-base Percentage - 2nd
Lowest Opponent's Slugging Percentage - 1st
Lowest Opponent's OPS - 2nd
Lowest WHIP - 2nd
Most Quality Starts - 6th
VORP - 2nd
K/BB Ratio - 4th
And now for the caveats:
1. We are talking about a sample size of 33 games.
2. The Braves' schedule has been really easy in the first 20% of the season. Atlanta hasn't played the D-Backs, Cubs, or Cards, while almost one-quarter of the schedule has been against the last-place Nats.
And now for the...antonym of caveat? The Braves have pitched so well despite a flurry of injuries. The starting rotation coming out of spring was going to be Smoltz, Hudson, Glavine, Hampton, and Jurrjens. Smoltz has shoulder problems and has been moved to the bullpen. Glavine missed two weeks with a bad hamstring. Hampton is having all sorts of complications from...OK, the "Hampton has female parts" jokes have probably run their course at this stage, so we'll just say that Hampton hasn't thrown a pitch in anger in the majors this year and probably won't by the end of the year. Hudson and Jurrjens have carried the starting rotation. (A cautionary note on Jair: he's never thrown more than 142 innings before, so don't be surprised if he tires out at some point. The alternative is that he throws 225 innings and becomes a massive injury risk in 2009.)
The bullpen has also been a MASH unit. The projected closer and set-up man - Soriano and Moylan - have combined to throw fewer than ten innings. Soriano will be back at some unspecified point, while Moylan, like seemingly a third of all pitchers, is out for the year. (Have I mentioned that the injuries that pitchers suffer drive me up a wall? I feel like I can never commit to rooting for a pitcher because the moment that I do, he'll be on I-20 headed for Dr. Andrews' office.) The Braves have gotten good contributions from a host of relievers. To end on a really happy thought, picture a bullpen later in the year with Smoltz closing and Soriano and Mike Gonzalez setting up. The Acosta-Bennett-Ohman-Ring-Campillo collection that has done a credible job in the first 33 games would now all become depth. How good do the starters really have to be if the Braves can win every game in which they have a lead after six innings? I realize this is a little presumptuous thinking for a team that won its first one-run game of the season on May 8, but I guy can dream, can't he?