2012 Braves Pitching Staff: What’s Going on in Atlanta?
Friday August 17th, 2012
Bernie Olshansky: As of today, the Atlanta Braves sit four games out of first place in the NL East. This division was supposed to be the strongest in baseball. The Nationals made moves in the offseason to acquire Gio Gonzalez, the Marlins signed three big name free agents to go along with the core of Hanley Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton, and the Phillies kept their strong pitching staff intact. The Braves didn’t make any huge moves and stuck with what they had—a strong hitting lineup to back up a good pitching rotation. The Braves started the season with Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy, and Mike Minor as their five-man rotation. Jurrjens was coming off a strong 2011 campaign in which he posted a 2.96 ERA through 152 innings. The Braves were hoping Jurrjens could replicate last season’s performance in order to give the team a better outcome and hopefully make the playoffs.
Unfortunately this was not the case for Jurrjens. He has been awful this year, going 3-4 with a 6.89 ERA. This isn’t the performance the Braves were hoping for, but somehow they are able to manage. Tim Hudson, the oldest on the staff at 36, has a 3.59 ERA to go with a 12-4 record. Tommy Hanson hasn’t been his best this year with a 4.29 ERA in 22 starts (his record is a bit deceiving at 12-5). He has also spent some time on the DL. The real story this year is Ben Sheets. After missing some of the 2010 season and not playing all of last year, Sheets joined the Braves midseason and has been fantastic. In his six starts this year, Sheets has gone 4-2 with a 2.13 ERA. In his 10-year career, Sheets’ best was 2004, when he posted a 2.70 ERA while going 12-14 with the Brewers. If he can keep his performance up, Sheets will have the best year of his career at age 34 (half a season, but still).
The Braves rank third in the majors with 548 runs scored. In the 117 games that they have played, it comes out to 4.68 runs per game. The pitching staff is interesting in terms of ERA. Hudson, Beachy (only made 13 starts) and Sheets all have sub-4.00 ERAs, while Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, Jurrjens, and Hanson all have over a 4.00 ERA. No one on the staff besides Jurrjens has an ERA higher than 5.00, so theoretically the Braves should win all games not started by Jurrjens and Minor (4.93 ERA). Recently added to the rotation is Kris Medlen. He has been great this year going 4-1 with a 2.03 ERA and threw a complete game shut out last night. Look for him to help bolster the rotation down the stretch.
There might be a bit of luck involved with the Braves’ success this year. The Phillies never got it going with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard spending a substantial amount of time on the DL. The Marlins have been a big disappointment. Hanley Ramirez had another sub-par season leading the Marlins to trade him to the Dodgers. Jose Reyes hit below his career average and has since turned it on, but it is most likely too late. With these two teams out of contention, it seems like the Braves would run away with the division. Wrong. The Nationals have been the surprise of the season with Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez leading the pitching staff and Adam LaRoche providing power to go along with Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, and the newly-returned Jayson Werth in the batting order. It looks like it’s going to be a two-team race going down to the end, most likely the Nationals taking the division and the Braves securing a Wild Card. But, will the Braves’ pitching be able to hold up in the playoffs?
With Tommy Hanson coming back, the Braves will use a six-man rotation. They will have to cut someone if they win the Wild Card game and go to the NLDS. Jair Jurrjens will most likely be that guy. He can move to the bullpen and become a long reliever, or could possibly be left off the roster (similar to Barry Zito of the 2010 Giants). If Sheets keeps his performance up, it looks like he will be the Game One starter, followed by Hudson in Game Two and then Hanson in Game Three (or vice versa). Minor could pitch in Game Four, or the Braves could opt to go with Sheets on three days’ rest. Sheets will be stronger come playoff time due to joining the Braves midseason, so the team could have a slight advantage with his rested arm.
The Braves are tied for the Wild Card lead with the Pirates, so if the pitching can keep doing what it’s doing, the Braves should end up winning a spot in the Wild Card game. If the Braves were to play in the Wild Card game, they would go with their hottest pitcher (most likely Sheets), and then go with their second-best in Game One of the NLDS. They would start with a slight disadvantage, and I can’t see them going far in the playoffs when they would potentially have to stack up with the rotations of the Nationals, Giants, or Dodgers.
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***Today’s feature was prepared by Bernie Olshansky, Baseball Writer & Facebook Administrator. We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers. You can also follow Bernie on Twitter (@BernieOlshansky)***
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Posted on August 17, 2012, in MLB Teams: Articles and Analysis and tagged baseball, brandon beachy, braves. atlanta, jair jurrjens, marlins, mike minor, mlb, NL east, phillies, pitching, randall delgado, staff, tim hudson, tommy hanson, turner field, wild card. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.