Kris Medlen, Craig Kimbrel give Braves a chance

sports@macon.comSeptember 22, 2012 

If the Atlanta Braves do anything in October, the players swinging the bats must do better. The most frustrating part of this season has been the inconsistency of the Atlanta offense. It has been great one week, and then the next week, it’s so bad you’d think you could jump on the mound and get them out.

For the Braves to win a series or two, you’ll probably have to see one of the hitters win a series MVP award.

But the one thing that gives this team hope more than anything is a pitching duo -- two pitchers who both fall short of being 6-foot but who have stood above the crowd for the Braves this season.

Kris Medlen and Craig Kimbrel are pitching so well right now that you wonder if they are special enough to make October special. Teams occasionally win championships because of a pitcher being so good that it makes that much of a difference.

Think about Josh Beckett in 2003, when he led Florida to a World Series win. Remember how Adam Wainwright was so good in 2006 as a reliever that he pushed the St. Louis Cardinals to a title? Curt Schilling could probably be credited with pushing two teams to a championship -- the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks and the 2004 Boston Red Sox.

Go back in Atlanta’s playoff history and remember how important Steve Avery was in two shutout performances in the 1991 NLCS. Heck, John Smoltz is arguably the best postseason pitcher ever. And while David Justice provided the offense, the Braves never would have won the World Series in 1995 if Tom Glavine had not shut down a slugging Cleveland offense.

Medlen and Kimbrel make the Braves dangerous. There are probably several teams that look at the pair and would admit they probably don’t want to face Atlanta in the playoffs. Hot pitchers can carry teams, and these two are about as hot as a pitcher can get.

Medlen’s numbers are borderline historic. He has an 8-0 record in his 10 starts since July 31, with an ERA of 0.76. He’s making the argument of who should start the do-or-die wild card game on Oct. 5 a no-brainer with his dominant work.

This week I wondered if Greg Maddux, arguably the best pitcher of our generation, ever had a 10-game stretch as dominant as what Medlen is doing right now. He didn’t. He came close. But in Maddux’s 11 years with the Braves, he never was this good.

There is no doubt Maddux was unbelievable at times, especially early in his tenure in Atlanta. The 1994 season was probably his best, as he had a quality start in all but one of his 25 starts that season. But even in his best stretch, Maddux had a 0.93 ERA. That’s great but falls a bit short of what Medlen has done.

Maddux’s best stretch in 2005 resulted in a 0.99 ERA. He had three more dominant 10-game stretches in his Braves career when his ERA was just more than 1.00. But again, that is not as great as what Medlen has done since the end of July.

Then there’s Kimbrel, who is in the Cy Young Award conversation with his 38 saves and a 1.10 ERA. But strikeouts are what make him scary good. Kimbrel is striking out 16.5 batters per nine innings. Think about that. That’s just shy of averaging two strikeouts per inning, which is what you want from someone trying to shut the door in the ninth inning.

Kimbrel’s career strikeout per nine innings ratio is 15.8. How dominant is that? Well, even though Kimbrel has pitched only two-plus seasons, it’s worth comparing that number to some of the best closers of all time who were also flamethrowers.

The first name that came to mind was former Cincinnati reliever Rob Dibble, who was probably the most intimidating reliever in his day. But his strikeout per nine innings ratio was 12.2. That’s the highest figure I could find. Others that were close: Billy Wagner and Brad Lidge (11.9), John Rocker (11.7), Jonathan Broxton and Francisco Rodriguez (11.0) and Jonathan Papelbon (10.8).

In fact, the only current pitcher who comes close to Kimbrel is Cincinnati’s Aroldis Chapman, who has struck out 14.4 batters per nine innings in his two-plus seasons. Chapman is the reason some teams want nothing to do with the Reds.

The Braves could get three or four shutouts from Medlen and Kimbrel and still lose if the offense does not carry its load in October. But having two pitchers pitching this well might well give Atlanta a better chance than many people think.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at Follow Bill on

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