The Braves open the division series Thursday at Sun Trust Park against the St. Louis Cardinals. Let me say this first and foremost. Do not believe that since the Braves are not playing the Dodgers or the Nationals that they have a pass in this first round. Do not believe this is going to be easy. The Cardinals have been one of the hottest teams in baseball since the All-Star Break. They have a great team, and while the Braves are getting most of the national love for this series, the Cardinals could win this thing. They have one of the best starting pitchers in the National League – Jack Flaherty. He’s going to pitch game two on Friday and could pitch the deciding fifth game if necessary next Wednesday. So, this is not going to be easy for the Braves. This could be tough, especially if the injuries to Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna and Josh Donaldson are a concern. We don’t want to look back on this series if the Braves lose and say, “Well, if they had been healthy, the Braves might have won it.” So, hopefully, everyone will be healthy and ready to go on Thursday afternoon. The Braves franchise has not won a playoff series since 2001, so we fans are ready for them to at least win the first round. But let’s not limit them there. This Braves team won 97 games this season, and several times we saw a team that was unbeatable. We saw a team that could dominate with the pitching, with the offense and we know they played great defense all season. It’s easy for us to wonder if the Braves will do what they did last year in October – and not compete in the first round. But let’s not forget that this is a different team than the one that lost in four games to the Dodgers. This team, this roster, has only 10 players that were in the division series last season. So, that’s 15 different players on this team. This is a much better team than last year’s Braves. This team has a starting pitcher, Dallas Keuchel, that was not on the team last season. Against the Dodgers, the Braves had Mike Foltynewicz pitch two games, along with Anibal Sanchez and Sean Newcomb. Folty will now follow Keuchel and then Mike Soroka, who has been Atlanta’s best pitcher, will go in game three in St. Louis. Think about the bullpen. Last year, they had Arodys Vizcaino, A.J. Minter, Chad Sobotka, Touki Toussaint, Brad Brach, Jonny Venters and Kevin Gausman in the pen. This year, they have two closers – Mark Melancon and Shane Greene, Chris Martin and Darren O’Day – two very good setup men, Luke Jackson, who was the closer for most of the season, and Jerry Blevins, a very effective lefty reliever. Remember last year the Braves were without Dansby Swanson in the first round. He’s back now, instead of having Charlie Culberson at shortstop. Josh Donaldson is the third baseman, instead of Johan Camargo last year. And Donaldson is now the cleanup hitter. Last year, they had Nick Markakis, who is not a power hitter, batting fourth. The Braves bench is better. Instead of Ryan Flaherty, Lucas Duda and Lane Adams, the Braves now have Adeiny Hechavarria, Adam Duvall and Billy Hamilton – three upgrades. There is a reason this year’s team won seven more games than last year’s team. This is a very good team. It can be a dominant team at times. And they are good enough to beat the Cardinals. Again, this won’t be easy… but take the Braves in five games. They’ve been one of the two best teams in the National League all season, and they’ll prove it in the division series that starts Thursday afternoon.