When it comes to defining an ace pitcher, we have a little different slant around these parts. You see, the Atlanta Braves were fortunate enough to have three aces for a long time. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were very special pitchers.
Those three will be in the Hall of Fame one day, but every ace doesnt have to be a future Hall of Famer.
Ace pitchers are innings-eaters who show they can consistently be counted on to win big games and lead a rotation. Most ace pitchers could go to any other team in baseball and also be its ace pitcher. Every team has a No. 1 starter, but not every team has an ace.
There is a difference. Bruce Chen might be the No. 1 pitcher for Kansas City, a team with a very bad starting rotation. But theres no way Id call him an ace. Aces are elite pitchers, believed to be one of the best in the game or in the league.
The Philadelphia Phillies feel like theyre the Braves of old right now. They have three pitchers who you could argue are ace pitchers: Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay. Lee has had an off year, but hes still very good. Halladay has battled injuries this season, but hes still one of the best in baseball when healthy.
Philadelphia believes, like the Braves did in the 1990s, having those three top pitchers gives it the best chance to be competitive each and every year. And theres no doubt, when comparing rotations around baseball, you stop and admire what they have assembled and know the Phillies always will have a chance to be good with those three at the top.
This season, you could argue the Washington Nationals have three pitchers emerging as potential ace pitchers. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman are having great seasons. Theyre all young and might need to win in the postseason and do it for a few more years before gaining that label, but they seem to be on their way.
Johan Santana had been an ace, before injuries made him ordinary. Adam Wainwright is once again is an ace for the St. Louis Cardinals. He was out last season, but Wainwright has picked up where he left off and is doing very well. Not many teams would turn Wainwright down if they needed an ace.
Clayton Kershaw is an ace. Tim Lincecum was before his disappointing season, but the San Francisco Giants will still take their chances with him. His teammate, Matt Cain, could make a good case.
C.C. Sabathia leads the list in the AL. David Price, Justin Verlander, Jared Weaver and Felix Hernandez are probably the other four you could call an ace in the AL.
As for the Braves, is Tim Hudson an ace? He might be Atlantas No. 1 right now, but Im not sure Hudson is an ace. He has a 3.42 career ERA in 14 years in the majors. He has won 101 games out of 163 decisions in a Braves uniform, which is pretty good. But when I look at Hudsons numbers I think hes a very good pitcher, not an ace.
Tommy Hanson has won double-digit games in each of his four seasons in the big leagues. He has a chance to do that for a long time, but Hanson has yet to establish himself as a potential ace. There are still too many hiccups to make you think Hanson can be more than a good No. 2 or 3 pitcher.
Ben Sheets was an ace for Milwaukee for many years. Before he got hurt, Sheets won a lot of games, even on bad teams. Maybe he can get back to that level, but he has a lot to prove after missing three of the past four years with injuries.
Paul Maholm? Hes having a good season, but hes a good No. 3. Could Mike Minor become an ace? Maybe, but right now he also looks like a good No. 3. How about Kris Medlen? Sure, he looks like an ace right now, but we need a full season with him as a starter to truly determine whether he can be in that league.
If Atlanta had an ace, there would be no debate about who would pitch the wild card play-in game. But right now, you might as well flip a coin.
The Braves have trouble beating winning teams. Its easy for No. 3 starters to beat bad teams. But maybe we know why the Braves cant do better against the teams they need to beat the most. Atlanta has good starting pitchers, but not one is what you could call an ace pitcher. Thats the problem.
Listen to The Bill Shanks Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill on Twitter@yahoo.com.