Braves a model of efficiency, smart moves
Organization refuses to panic despite potentially season-altering injuries
The Atlanta Braves have had the National League's best rotation by a wide margin this season, and there's absolutely no way this was supposed to happen. Isn't that the beauty of a baseball season with all its twists and turns?
In the span of a few days this spring, the Braves lost two starting pitchers -- Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy -- for the season to Tommy John surgery and a third -- Mike Minor -- for about a month of the regular season because of a sore shoulder.
Suddenly, the math changed for the Braves. They didn't appear to be as good as the Nationals in the National League East, which would leave them scrambling to grab one of the NL Wild Card spots.
What was interesting was watching how the Braves reacted to the bad news. Even though general manager Frank Wren had seen his blueprint blown up, he never panicked. He also never changed his expectations for the club.
He simply had confidence that the organization would figure something out, that there'd be some internal options and perhaps some external ones as well. Perhaps he was reminding the world what a lot of people already knew.
That is, baseball's best organizations have the ability to adjust to setbacks on the fly. Some franchises -- management, coaches, clubhouses -- have a resolve and a confidence that can carry them through tough times.
The Braves suffered potentially season-altering injuries, but the people in charge -- president John Schuerholz, Wren, etc. -- still saw the whole as greater than the sum of the parts. When a team has been to the postseason 17 times in 22 seasons, expectations are unshakable.
Anyway, here's what Wren did. He rushed back into the free-agent marketplace and signed the top remaining starter, Ervin Santana, to a one-year, $14.1 million deal. Santana has made two starts for his new team and allowed one earned run in 14 innings.
At 31, his fastball-slider combination appears to be as good as ever. He has averaged 200 innings the last six seasons, and so the Braves were thrilled he was still on the market.
Late in Spring Training, Wren added another free agent, a surprising one, when he released one veteran, Freddy Garcia, and signed another, 35-year-old Aaron Harang, who'd been let go by the Indians.
Wren was vague about the swap, saying the Braves were more comfortable with Harang. That move, too, has paid off. In three starts, Harang has allowed two earned runs and compiled a 0.96 ERA.
With Minor due off the disabled list by the end of the month, the Braves suddenly face the kind of pleasant decision they never thought they'd have to make.
But the real story of these Braves are the three kids -- Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and David Hale. Hale is 26, Teheran and Wood 23.
They're the biggest reason that Atlanta's rotation has a 1.80 ERA and has been the best in the NL by more than a half-run (0.66) over the Brewers. The Braves have won five of their eight starts, and the three have combined for a 2.47 ERA.
So despite losing Medlen and Beachy and not having Minor, the Braves are off to a 9-4 start and fresh off a three-game weekend sweep of the Nationals.
Wood and Hale began the season with 13 Major League starts between them, and now having responded after being thrown into the mix, the Braves suddenly find themselves with long-term depth and talent.
With left fielder Justin Upton looking like a guy capable of winning a Most Valuable Player trophy and with shortstop Andrelton Simmons looking like one of the 10 or 20 best players in the game, the Braves have a good thing going.
All this comes after an offseason in which they lost catcher Brian McCann and veteran right-hander Tim Hudson to free agency. They loved both players, but when the Yankees and Giants offered more money than the Braves were comfortable paying, they wished both well and said their goodbyes.
The Braves believed Evan Gattis was ready to step in as the everyday catcher and that top prospect Christian Bethancourt wasn't far behind. And even though they loved what Hudson brought them in terms of production and leadership, they knew Wood and Hale might be ready.
Wren also signed free-agent right-hander Gavin Floyd, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery. He had no idea when Floyd would be ready to pitch, but guessed he might be the perfect addition to the staff, say, in the second half of the season. Floyd could be just a few weeks away from returning to the big leagues, and then the Braves would have another option.
This is what they do. They build from within. They don't panic. Their manager, Fredi Gonzalez, runs a clubhouse that is a mixture of accountability and humor.
If these first two weeks have reminded us of anything, it's that the Braves still do things right, that it would be almost impossible to find a franchise operated more smartly or efficiently.
What's different about this season is that those spring injuries seemed so crippling it looked like even the Braves might not be able to recover. We're happy to be wrong.