Guerry Clegg commentary: Mark it down, NL East race is over

August 10, 2013 

You remember what Yogi famously said. It ain't over till it's over.

Well, sorry, Yogi. It's over.

Yes, the Atlanta Braves still have six games left against the Washington Nationals. No, I haven't forgotten that the Braves are only two years removed from blowing a huge lead in the wildcard race with St. Louis.

But the circumstances are different. For one thing, the Nationals simply aren't good enough to make an historic run. They have, contrary to preseason anointing as the best team in baseball, too many problems to be solved overnight.

Besides, the gap is too great. The Braves' lead stood at 15½ games going into Saturday night's games. Even if the Nationals sweep the two remaining series with the Braves, they'd still have to make up 9½ games over the other 40 games.

Mathematically possible, but highly unlikely.

And it takes more than just one team getting red hot to overcome such a deficit. The leading team has to accommodate. These Braves, unlike the 2011 edition, are not going to fall apart. They are better than the '11 Braves in every aspect. Better starting pitching. Deeper bullpen. More power in the lineup. Better bench. Better defense where it matters most, at shortstop.

Just as important, if not more, is the fact that Fredi Gonzalez won't make the same mistake of burning his bullpen out down the stretch. Gonzalez has openly second-guessed

himself for pitching Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel seemingly every day.

This bullpen is substantially deeper with the big four of Kimbrel, Jordan Walden, Luis Avilan and David Carpenter, plus Scott Downs, Anthony Varvaro and Luis Ayala. There's simply not a single weak link in the bullpen. It will be ridiculously deep when the rosters expand in September.

The only problem the Braves have is how to pare down the roster to the best 25 for postseason. Paul Maholm's return from the disabled list, which is imminent, will bump someone out of the bullpen, assuming Alex Wood remains on the roster. They won't need to carry 12 pitchers in the playoffs. So that would cost another reliever his spot. Wood has the least experience of the bunch. But he is making himself indispensible, especially with his ability to start and relieve.

Carrying 11 pitchers in the postseason would allow for six position player reserves. Three of those spots figure to be catchers Evan Gattis and Gerald Laird and infielder Paul Janish. So that leaves three outfield spots. Rather, that leaves one outfield spot behind Jordan Shafer and Reed Johnson. Joey Terdoslavich is the best fit because of his versatility, both as a switch-hitter and as someone who can play all four corner positions.

Now the hottest team in baseball with a 14-game winning streak going into Saturday night just got better.

Brandon Beachy's sterling pitching performance Friday night with eight shutout innings erased concerns of his comeback from Tommy John surgery. A playoff series rotation of Beachy, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran would match up with any top three in the National League. Kris Medlen has made a strong case with his last three starts to be the fourth starter.

There's solid starting pitching, a light's out bullpen, a lineup stacked with power, and a bench that possesses speed (Shafer), power (Gattis), one of the best pinch-hitters in baseball (Johnson) and a rookie with one of the best swings on the team (Terdoslavich).

This is a team that can win it all.

-- Guerry Clegg is a independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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