CHICAGO – Dallas Keuchel has been part of the Braves organization for a few weeks. But the early impression gave him the feeling of being part of a team that can compete with some of the big Astros clubs of recent years.
"It's a complete
"It's a full squad," Keuchel said, "I know a thing or two about entire teams, and this group excites me every day."
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The Braves, who claim the second-best win rate at MLB since May 1
"We're ready to go every day," said catcher Brian McCann, who was Keuchel's teammate with the Astros for the last two years. "I think if you have that quality, it trumps everything else. We have the hunger to compete, to win and to be great.
Having won 30 of their last 43 games, including 18 out of 24 this month, the Braves have a lead of 5 1/2 games in the National League East and looked much more impressive than when they won the division last year.
Halfway through the schedule, the Braves (48-33) are a victory ahead of the pace and aeons of last year on May 9, when they were 18-20 years old and a chance of 31.8 Percent had to make the postseason after the projections of FanGraphs.
This percentage was 94.8 after winning on Wednesday night.
"We are in first place, Nick Markakis said. "We're right where we want to be, just picking it up and putting it away every day."
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With McCann's second solo shot and Markakis decisive threesome in the fourth round, the Braves increased their MLB lead to 50 in June. They have 126 this season, three more than The One The club of 2003 had 235 home runs in the middle on the way to a franchise record.
Freddie Freeman (14.86), Ronald Acuna Jr. (16.74) and Josh Donaldson (18.27) all have an AB Rookie Austin Riley is not among the qualifiers, but since his debut on May 15, he is haunted every 12:58 at-bats.  Much has been said about the change in this offense since Acuna May 10 returned to the top but Riley's arrival five days later was a big factor.
With Luke Jackson and set-up man Anthony Swarzak unavailable on Wednesday, Jacob Webb, Sean Newcomb, Touki Toussaint and AJ Minter joined to keep the Cubs goalless After Keuchel had finished his 5 1/3 innings. Minter pulled the only four batters out of the race, having started in the eighth with two ons and two outs.
This type of combined effort was considered rare on May 9, when Minter was demoted to Triple-A and the Braves' Bullpen had an ERA of 4.46 in the first 38 games. However, this aid corps has evolved and proved to be one of the team's strengths, having scored an MLB Best 2.89 ERA since May 15 (39 games).
"Where we were two months ago and where we are now … you look down and a lot of people have gotten lots of different opportunities," said Brian Snitker, manager of Braves. "Each time, they gain valuable experience and do an excellent job."
Jackson has proved useful in the role of the closer, but the biggest improvement with the bullpen is the depth he has gained With the move from Newcomb to Reliever and the acquisition of Swarzak on May 20, which has allowed Atlanta only one run in 16 2/3 innings.
Kevin Gausman is on the injury list, trying to recover from three ugly launches that could eventually lead him to Bullpen. And Mike Foltynewicz got the option on Triple-A one year after his first All-Star selection.
So it's easy to see why the Braves were willing to give Keuchel $ 13 million for about 18 regular season launches. The former Cy Young Award winner of the American League struggled to keep up with his breaking pitches on two starts, but looked like he was a solid co-anchor with Mike Soroka, who scored an ERA of 2 for the majors , 07 took second place.
If you want to know how good the offensive was, the Braves lost only six out of 24 games this month as their rotation recorded an ERA of 5.50. There will be another starter before the close of trading on July 31, but the signing of Keuchel has already provided much needed stability.
"The first two starts, everything has been positive so far," said Snitker. "He is getting better and better."
Mark Bowman reports on the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.