Once promising, Braves' rotation on shaky ground
Club must depend on combination of inexperienced arms, declining veterans
One moment, the Braves had one of the most impressive starting pitching rotations in the Major Leagues.
The next … well, this isn't pretty.
Kris Medlen was scheduled to undergo Tommy John surgery Tuesday for the second time in less than four years to repair a tear to his ulnar collateral ligament, and he will be gone at least through 2014 for the Braves. His career also is in danger. The same goes for that of Brandon Beachy, who is a second opinion away this week from Tommy John surgery for his second time. More than likely, Beachy will join Medlen as a spectator instead of a participant this season, and that could be the case for months or even years.
There also is Mike Minor, recovering from urinary-tract surgery along with soreness in his left pitching shoulder. He could pitch for Atlanta by May, but who knows? And you also can throw a question mark around whether veteran Gavin Floyd will join the Braves by the end of month. Like Medlen and Beachy, Floyd is familiar with Tommy John surgery. Unlike those two, Floyd is at the back end of recovering from his first and only such surgery.
How effective will Floyd be?
Yep … who knows?
The Braves did acquire free-agent pitcher Ervin Santana last week, when Medlen's future first gathered clouds. Among other positives, Santana was fourth in the American League in quality starts in 2013, which means he should provide a slew of much-needed innings for a hurting - literally -- rotation.
It's just that Santana didn't have time to do much of anything with Atlanta until he threw batting practice last Friday. He won't be prepared to start until a couple of weeks into the season.
Talking about drama out of nowhere for the starting rotation of the suddenly pitching-challenged Braves. Since we're in the midst of March Madness, let's put it this way: If baseball were college basketball, Atlanta would be projected only to make the National Invitation Tournament at the end of the season as opposed to the Big Dance. You can't waltz toward the Major League's version of the Final Four -- the League Championship Series -- along the way to the World Series without more than a few overwhelming arms.
What the Braves have now among starting pitchers is underwhelming compared to the likes of the Dodgers, the Cardinals, the Reds and even the Nationals and the Phillies inside of their own National League East.
Unless the Braves make a trade between now and the end of the month, they will begin the regular season with a starting pitching rotation featuring a rookie in David Hale, a near-rookie entering his second Major League season in Alex Wood, a designated ace with just one full year of experience in Julio Teheran and a 37-year-old veteran in Freddy Garcia, whose skills are on the decline.
You get the picture about the flimsiness of Atlanta's rotation overall. This isn't an ideal situation for a team that entered Spring Training with thoughts of sprinting deep into October for the first time since its days of Cy Maddux, Cy Glavine and Cy Smoltz.
You remember those guys. They otherwise were known as Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, and while Maddux and Glavine are headed to the Hall of Fame this summer, Smoltz will join them next year. They were complemented by fourth starters such as Steve Avery, Denny Neagle and other All-Stars, and they often had fifth starters with solid credentials.
Then came life after Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz, and the Braves' pitching remained at least good with Tim Hudson leading the way. If Hudson struggled, Atlanta still had Jair Jurrjens, Derek Lowe or Tommy Hanson.
Hudson left the Braves after last season for the Giants, but no worries.
So it seemed.
There was Medlen and his splendid 28-year-old arm slated to become the Braves' new Hudson, Maddux, Glavine or Smoltz. Atlanta once set a Major League record by winning 23 consecutive times in games that Medlen started through April 2013. There also was Beachy, 27, who flashed signs of stardom in his second full Major League season by leading the NL through June 2012 with a 2.00 ERA before he needed his first Tommy John surgery.
With Teheran as a third starter in that original mix, followed by some combination of Minor, Floyd, Wood, Hale and Garcia, the Braves were as deep as anybody in baseball in starting pitching.
Unless those young folks and the old man in the rotation pitch out of their minds for the Braves, it could be, "Oh, no."