The Atlanta Braves could be in first place by the end of the weekend

It’s hard to believe that the Atlanta Braves could start a weekend with a 29-31 record, and end it in first place.

But that’s entirely possible if the Braves can sweep the New York Mets and the Washington Nationals lose three more games at Milwaukee. And as we close in on the halfway point of the 2015 regular season, that’s a heck of an accomplishment for this makeshift bunch.

Obviously, it helps that none of the other four teams have been able to pull away in the National League East. So far, the Mets and Nationals have been supremely disappointing, while the Marlins and Phillies have been as advertised.

The Braves, however, have overachieved for a squad that some thought would be among the worst teams in the N.L. Many believed it would be an accomplishment if the Braves hovered near .500, but that’s something they’ve been able to do for much of the season so far.

They’ve done it with consistent hitting and solid starting pitching. They’re 14th out of 15 teams in the N.L. with just 39 home runs, but the team’s .321 on-base percentage is fourth-best in the league. A year ago, they did neither particularly well.

On the mound, the starters have boasted a 3.91 ERA, good enough for sixth-best in the league. That’s better than the Nationals’ starters, who are being paid 17 times more than their Atlanta counterparts, on average, according to ESPN’s salary estimates.

But there’s one reason why the Braves won’t be able to sustain this relative success: the bullpen. At 4.75, the Braves have the worst ERA of all 30 Major League teams. That horrendous number means the bullpen averages more innings with at least one earned run allowed than scoreless innings.

As the season progresses, these already-mediocre arms will wear down, and it’s going to get uglier. They’re also second-worst in the league in walks, meaning these guys are throwing a lot of pitches and putting a lot of hitters on base. That won’t bode well down the stretch, and their inability to hold a lead in the late innings will eventually do this team in.

Regardless of what happens in the later months of the season, it’s been exciting to see the Braves in contention to this point, and if they’re atop the division at the end of this weekend, they have a chance to really overachieve in 2015.

Photo: AP/John Bazemore

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