The Atlanta Braves have had to stitch together a pitching rotation due to injuries, but their pitching should ultimately be fine, as a greater concern will be their streaky offense. As the Braves showed on their Opening Day game against the Milwaukee Brewers, while their offense has some very good hitters, they are an inconsistent — although good — offensive team, overall. While the Braves’ 2013 regular season was very successful after a record of 96-66, this was mostly attributed to their impressive pitching staff. Their pitchers ranked first in the NL in overall ERA, while the hitters ranked 13th in runs scored and 19th in batting average.
Yes, the first game only showed a miniscule sample of the team, but it reflected the weaknesses of Atlanta’s batters. Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, B.J. Upton, and Dan Uggla are known around the baseball world to be very streaky hitters. When everything is clicking for them at the plate, they are basically unstoppable, but when they hit a bad slump, they become incredibly unproductive hitters. The Braves’ batters will catch fire at some points in the season, though, and when they do, the overall potential of this team goes through the roof. But as they showed last year, it is generally hit or miss for some of these Braves hitters.
When the Atlanta Braves get their starters back, the pitching staff will be fine, and then the attention will shift to the concerns towards their offense. Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson were undoubtedly the most consistent hitters last year, and they batted .319 and .321, respectively, as they both had incredible seasons. There were some weak spots, though, in the Braves’ offense that were mostly highlighted by the historically bad seasons by B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla. However, baseball is still a team game, and the Braves struck out a combined total of 1,384 times, which was the second most in the NL. In 2014, Upton and Uggla look to improve their hitting, Jason Heyward is fully healthy and primed for a big season, and Andrelton Simmons looks to improve even more so on offense. One of the biggest question marks is if Evan Gattis and Gerald Laird can make up for the loss of Brian McCann behind the plate on both offense and defense. The Braves are still a good offense, but they will need to work on their flaws in order to have a successful season.
The saving grace to the Braves’ season may have been when they were able to sign Ervin Santana out of desperation. He was choosing between signing with the Toronto Blue Jays or Baltimore Orioles when the Braves swooped in to sign him to fill a gaping hole in their pitching staff. Santana can be a very good pitcher, and his proven track record of being able to effectively pitch for over 200 innings is one of Santana’s greatest strengths. For the past few years, Atlanta’s starters have not been known for pitching past the 7th inning. Santana pitched at least seven innings in 18 out of his 32 starts in 2013. If he is able to pitch many innings again this year, it could ultimately help the bullpen by saving them innings and keeping them fresh.
The losses of Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy were blows to their pitching staff, but they still have some very capable and talented starters on the roster for the 2014 season. After a terrific breakout season in 2013, Julio Teheran is looking to establish himself as one of the National League’s best starters. Alex Wood is an up-and-coming young left-handed pitcher who has very good stuff and incredible potential. When he returns to the rotation, it will be debatable to whether Mike Minor is the best pitcher on the team. Gavin Floyd is trying to make a comeback return, and he has proven himself as a good pitcher in his career, who could make a significant impact to the Braves. Once everybody is presumably healthy, here is what the Braves’ starters rotation will look like:
1. Julio Teheran
2. Mike Minor
3. Ervin Santana
4. Alex Wood
5. Gavin Floyd
This is still a very good rotation that can compete for a playoff spot if the pitchers can stay healthy and the offense can support them. As for the dumping of Freddy Garcia and the pickup of Aaron Harang, obviously the Braves’ scouts did not like what they saw out of Garcia in the Spring. Harang is younger than Garcia, has better speed on his pitches, and had a successful season recently in 2012 with the Dodgers. He will likely be replaced in the rotation once the other starters are healthy, however.
The Atlanta Braves should be fine on pitching once Santana, Minor, and Floyd join the rotation, but concerns of the team will then shift to offense because of their inconsistency, high strikeout rate, and lack of small ball. But until the Braves get some help in their rotation, they will need to play smart and aggressive baseball in the early part of the season to keep up with the NL East. Consistency is the main problem with Atlanta’s offense, but it can be counteracted by making good decisions at the plate, getting on base, and situational hitting.
Commentary by Glen Parris
Guardian Liberty Voice Writer Covering the Atlanta Braves