As the midpoint of the MLB regular season approaches, the Atlanta Braves find themselves exactly where most might have supposed they would be. They are in a tie with the Washington Nationals for first place in the National League East. It would have been fairly easy to assume the Nationals would be in this spot because of the strength of their pitching staff going into the season. The surprise team of the two, if there is one, is definitely the Braves. However, surprises are long forgotten at this point and it is time to find out which team is best.
Offensively the Nationals have been better in runs scored, hits and doubles. Other areas like RBI, triples and such see the Nats and Braves neck and neck headed to the halfway point while the Braves have hit more home runs and struck out a few more times. For the most part each team has the same ability to score a bunch of runs in a bunch of games or get shutout four days in a row if they suddenly forget how to hit. Then since the offense is similar, the difference must be in the pitching staff.
This should be where the Nats pull ahead. They have the stronger staff on paper as the Braves have really struggled with injuries early on. However when it comes down to it, the teams split ERA rankings. The Nationals are better from the bullpen by a few points while the Braves have been better from the starting rotation. The Braves have more saves but the Nationals have fewer blown saves.
So when you actually get down to it, the teams are in the exact same situation. Each team knows they have to play better to put the other one away. The Braves won two straight from the Nats recently but had just been swept by the Philadelphia Phillies. The Nats meanwhile won four straight, including two of three from the MLB leading Milwaukee Brewers, only to lose two straight to the Chicago Cubs.
Both teams can play better and more consistently. Both teams know they can. Whichever team does play better might take the division. On the other hand, if they continue to play around with each other, the Miami Marlins are waiting just a couple of games away. It should be a very interesting season from here out in the NL East.