Defense is saving Atlanta

Jason Heyward's glove has saved Atlanta pitchers a lot of runs thus far this season. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

This season could easily have been a disaster for the Atlanta Braves. Last season, they won 96 games and took the NL East by 10 games thanks in large part to the excellent pitching performances of Mike Minor and Kris Medlen, who both finished in the top 16 in ERA among qualified NL starters.

This season, Minor has missed the first month because of a groin injury, and Medlen needed his second career Tommy John surgery, which ended his season before it began. Adding to their injury woes is Brandon Beachy, who was second behind Medlen among all starters with at least 80 innings in 2012 with a 2.00 ERA. He was expected to reenter the rotation following his own Tommy John surgery in 2013, but he, too, needed a second Tommy John surgery and is out for the season.

That run of injuries prompted the Braves to sign Ervin Santana just before the season, but that addressed only one of their three rotation holes, in any case. The team looked to be in trouble, especially with much of the baseball world expecting the Washington Nationals -- whose trade for Doug Fister this offseason gave them a strong case for best rotation in baseball -- to run away with the division. However, the Braves not only kept pace, they actually lead the NL East.

The D is key

Much of the credit for their strong start has been given to the surprising dominance of the unheralded Alex Wood and seemingly past-his-prime Aaron Harang, not to mention Santana and Julio Teheran. But the one common trait all of these pitchers share is the Braves' defense, which has been the best in baseball thus far.