Combination of free-agent veterans and young hurlers leading Atlanta
Back in Spring Training, when it became apparent that the Atlanta Braves would open the season without 60 percent of their projected starting rotation, there were some obituaries written about their chances.
Those pieces were, it now appears, somewhere between premature and completely inaccurate. No question, the Braves were in a difficult situation. And again, without debate, the primary opposition in the NL East, the Washington Nationals, had pitching all over the place.
But as we look at the numbers after 45 games, we find the Braves with the best team earned run average in the Major Leagues. And we find them in first place in their division. They are not running a push-button operation, and the Nats are just off the pace. But the Braves don't seem to be in any danger of disappearing, evaporating, or even doing much of a fade at all.
The Braves have to be congratulated for having some adequate replacements already in the neighborhood and then for finding additional outside help.
It looked very, very dodgy for them when it was learned that both Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy were going to be lost for the season with Tommy John surgery. The fact that other clubs' rotations were being hit by the torn elbow ligament epidemic really didn't serve as any solace to the Braves, particularly since a third starter, lefty Mike Minor, was also going to open the season on the disabled list.
General manager Frank Wren acted with dispatch, obtaining the leading free-agent starter remaining on the market, Ervin Santana. Santana was atypically cuffed around by the Brewers Wednesday night, but he's still 4-2 with a 3.42 ERA and he has been an invaluable addition.
Minor has recently returned to the rotation and that has added stability. But the Braves have been getting immense contributions from individuals who might not have been considered by outside observers as likely to be helping out quite this much.
There is the veteran Aaron Harang, for instance, who has not pitched with consistent success in recent seasons, but who has a 2.98 ERA in nine starts for Atlanta. His acquisition was not met by a standing ovation, but here he is at age 36, a major contributor.
On the other end of age spectrum, home-grown Julio Teheran, 23, has worked to a 1.92 ERA over 10 starts with a 0.95 WHIP. He shut out Milwaukee Tuesday night in Atlanta. It can be safely said that he is already maturing as a pitcher.
And most recently, the Braves have dipped into the pool of pitchers returning from -- what else -- Tommy John surgery and come up with Gavin Floyd, 31. Floyd knows what he is doing and has been healthy enough to give the Braves three starts with a 2.41 ERA.
Toss in the talented young left-hander Alex Wood, and the Braves have what could be seen as the rarest of commodities, an actual surplus of starting pitching.
But given the way things have gone with pitching injuries this season, that sort of thing probably shouldn't be anybody's focus.
Instead, with these Braves, we can marvel at how a situation that looked like a catastrophe has become just another example of the Atlanta organization is capable of finding enough pitching to not only compete, but to win.
With a combination of astute acquisitions and the kind of organizational pitching depth that the Braves have justifiably become known for, what you have here so far is a story of meeting adversity head-on, and emerging with not only a will, but a way.
And if the argument is that the biggest strength of this club is its bullpen, that just reinforces the point.
There aren't many organizations that could get through the loss of such a large portion of a starting rotation in one spring, but this is one that could. The Braves are in against some extremely difficult competition, but this team has already demonstrated that it is not going to be discouraged no matter how high the degree of difficulty becomes.