Braves’ bullpen impresses, Maholm’s strong start; more

FOX Sports checked in with play-by-play announcer Chip Caray to get his thoughts on the Braves.

FOX SPORTS SOUTH: When you look at this pitching staff, you have the best overall ERA in baseball and the best bullpen ERA in baseball. What has impressed you the most about this group one month into the season?

CHIP CARAY: I think the most impressive thing for me has been the work of the bullpen. When you lose a guy like Jonny Venters and you lose that gives you valuable innings like Cristhian Martinez, those are holes that you have to find a way to fill.

Anthony Varvaro has stepped up and given the club a lot of innings in blowout wins or blowout losses and important games too, says a lot about how much he has matured as a pitcher.

Then, Luis Avilan has stepped in and become a very similar type weapon to what Jonny Venters had been the last couple of years. It’s been really impressive.

Everybody knows what Craig Kimbrel can do; everybody knows what Eric O’Flaherty can do and they’re both doing that. So every know this is a bullpen that isn’t configured as the Braves figured on Opening Day, it has pitched as well if not better than anybody could have hoped and that’s a huge weapon this club has.

To see a bullpen with an ERA under 2.00 and we’re five weeks into the season is really, really impressive I think.

FSS: The Braves have gotten some strong outings out of Paul Maholm. We started to see some glimpses of this after they traded for him last season but could anyone have expected to pitch as well as he has over his first six starts?

CC: The old saying is, sometimes in baseball, the best trade is the one you don’t make.

Remember, Paul Maholm wasn’t the guy that the Braves originally went to the Cubs to get; it was Ryan Dempster. But they saw what Maholm had done and was pitching really, really well with the Cubs at the time of his trade.

All the publications have talked about how Paul, at the age of 30, had started to figure out how to use all this weapons as a major league pitcher. The one thing that I think we all have noticed that Paul has done so effectively is his ability to change speeds on any one of his pitches, which is really a huge weapon for him.

He has always been a ground-ball guy; he’s always gotten double plays and the like. But he’s getting a lot of awkward swings and misses, not because he throws 93 mph, but because he does what pitchers are supposed to do: he disrupts the hitters timing very, very effectively.

FSS: We saw the Braves win the first five games of the year against the Nationals, but the last two games, their offensive disappeared. Where do you think things were left with these rivals after their latest series?

CC: It’s going to be a great race. Both ball clubs did not play at full-strength. The Braves are still without Brian McCann and Jason Heyward; they were without Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper was banged up.

I think the biggest difference between the teams is their bullpens. The Braves statistically have an advantage at this point because they’ve pitched better.

The Nationals have a fearsome starting rotation; Stephen Strasburg — even though the Braves have beaten him up a little bit – and Gio Gonzalez are terrific talents but we saw how the effective the backend of the Nationals’ rotation can be with Dan Haren and Jordan Zimmermann and the Braves have always had trouble hitting Ross Detwiler.

A big key for the Braves is can they keep Washington off the scoreboard early and get a couple of early runs and put a bit of pressure on the Nationals’ offense. That was a big problem when they played last year; the Braves gave up 25 first-inning runs to the Nationals last season.

The Braves have played them seven times and the Braves have won five of seven. The Nationals are the only team within the division against whom the Braves had a losing record, so these games are important, as are the ones they play against the Marlins and the Mets and the Phillies.

You want to do well against the team that won the division last year and the Braves have done that. That’s why they lead them.

FSS: Every indication is that Brian McCann will be back next year. He has done well in his rehab starts, but what are your early expectations for what we’ll see out of him when he returns to the lineup?

CC: I don’t think anybody is going to expect Brian McCann to go out and hit .340 and start hitting home runs all over the place like Evan Gattis did. But any time you get a superstar back in your lineup, that is a huge lift for your club emotionally.

He’s another potent bat, a guy that can put the ball in play and he’s very happy wit the way that his shoulder has gone with regards to its rehab.

Brian’s a guy that can hit and we’ve seen this is a club that can be feast or famine when it comes to its offense and adding another guy who is a threat anywhere in this lineup will be welcomed by Fredi Gonzalez and the rest of his staff.

I look for Brian McCann to come back swinging and I look for Brian McCann to slowly and surely become the Brian McCann that we’ve been spoiled to have seen all these years.

Let’s not kid ourselves. This is an important season for him and this is an important season for the Braves franchise and having a guy like Brian McCann swinging the bat like an All-Star would be a welcome addition.

It’s like making a trade without giving anybody up.