Five Big Things: Braves are searching for their offense, Dodgers get their ace back

Five Big Things is Big League Stew's look at the week ahead in MLB action, examining storylines and matchups you should keep an eye on.

The Atlanta Braves surprised a lot of people with their hot start, considering the glut of pitching injuries the team suffered before the season started. The Braves had a 17-7 record at the start of last week, helped along by their starting pitchers owning a sub-2.00 ERA. Aaron Harang was pitching like Clayton Kershaw, and we all know that wasn't sustainable.

Atlanta wasn't performing particularly well offensively, however, so that 17-7 record looked like it would even out eventually. Eventually just happened kind of quick, because the Braves enter play this week losers of six straight. They're still in first place in the NL East, but at 17-14, their lead is only half a game over the Washington Nationals. The Braves are second to last in runs scored (only the Padres are worse) and have the fourth-worst batting average in MLB. The Braves lost three straight over the weekend to the Giants, scoring only one run in each game. Yikes. Where’s the offense, guys?

The Cardinals come to town for three games starting Monday, and the Braves bats need to wake up because the way things are looking in the NL East (more on that in a sec), they could be in last place pretty quickly. The Braves do face the Cubs later in the week, which may be a welcome relief.

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Every team in the NL East is above .500 entering play Monday. Yes, even the Mets and the Marlins. The Marlins — offensive juggernauts these days, who own the fourth-best batting average in baseball and have scored the sixth-most runs — are in last place, but they're only 1 1/2 games out of first. The third-place Mets play the Marlins and the Phillies this week. We should all hope the Mets are in first place by next Monday, just because that would be funny.

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It's sort of feels like Clayton Kershaw is making his season debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers this week. It's not, because he pitched way back on March 22 during that series in Australia, but that seems like another lifetime ago on a continent far, far away. The Dodgers are happy to welcome their ace back after his back injury. He'll pitch Tuesday against the Washington Nationals. The team compiled an 18-14 record in the first month of the season sans Kershaw. That's not wonderful, but it could have been worse.

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It's not the Dodgers who sit atop the NL West as most predicted, but the San Francisco Giants. At 20-11, they're a couple wins away from owning baseball's best record. They've won five in a row and nine of their last 10. The Giants have the second best ERA in baseball, which is not a surprise considering their rep for solid pitching, but they also have the second-most homers in the league, which is not what we're used to seeing from the Giants of recent years.

Give credit to the front office, whose two big offseason moves have worked wonderfully so far. Michael Morse is hitting .302 with eight homers and Tim Hudson is 4-1 with a 2.17 ERA. This week the Giants play three in Pittsburgh, then four at the Dodgers.

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Over in the American League, the Detroit Tigers have also won five straight. At 17-9, they have the fewest losses in baseball, though they've played fewer games than everyone else too. The Tigers hit .311 the last two weeks, and look like they can keep their winning ways going with six games this week against the Astros and Twins.

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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