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The Braves have apparently won the NL East again, but can they do any damage in the playoffs?

Lee Clontz, Atlanta

VERDUCCI: Atlanta is a dangerous team now that Rafael Furcal is getting on base and Chipper Jones (below) has regained his power stroke. But whether they advance through October is all about their starting pitching. Just ask John Smoltz. He dominated games and was one of the best clutch pitchers of his generation as a starter. But as a closer in October he has had minimal impact. Why? He needs starting pitchers to get the game to him. I like power and pure stuff on the mound in playoff baseball, and Atlanta doesn't have that kind of staff. I do like the Braves' bullpen and the depth of their lineup, though. So if Jaret Wright and Russ Ortiz can keep games close, Atlanta will find ways to win late.

Can any baseball writers justify not casting their MVP vote for Barry Bonds?

Robert Hamm, Naples, Fla.

VERDUCCI: Can we at least wait until we play the September schedule before we start handing out hardware? Bonds certainly changes games more than anybody in baseball. With an on-base percentage in the neighborhood of .600 and a slugging mark north of .800, the guy makes MLB look like PS2. But, see, there is still another month to play. And I'm not ready to completely write off Adrian Beltre if he carries the Dodgers into the playoffs and Bonds and the Giants wind up watching them on TV. And I'm still not selling short the great seasons by Scott Rolen and Albert Pujols in St. Louis. Is Bonds the favorite? Absolutely. But let's see what September brings.

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