The Atlanta Braves won 96 games last season. They won the NL East. Yet not many people will go out on a limb and predict they’ll be that successful again this season.
That’s what happens when a team’s rotation turns into a mess within a few short days. The very thing that made the Braves great last year makes them a huge question this season.
When they got to camp in mid-February, the rotation looked like a strength. But after Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy got hurt on consecutive days, the strength evaporated quickly. And the one thing that has been the staple of this organization for more than two decades is now the biggest worry.
The Braves might get Mike Minor back in late April. They might get Gavin Floyd back in early May. They might get Jonny Venters back for the bullpen sometime in midseason. Aaron Harang might be good enough to fill in for a while.
But what if they can’t, and they don’t?
Every team in spring training has a lot of “maybes” and “ifs,” but the Braves have more than most. We haven’t even gotten to the position players yet, like the two who couldn’t even hit .200 last season. That would be enough of a concern, but the pitching staff will make you nuts if you think about it too much.
Julio Teheran will have a tremendous season. Yes, he’ll be the ace that Medlen was going to be. And Ervin Santana will do what he usually does -- approach 200 innings and be a solid starter. Count on Alex Wood to be good, as well. He looked more like a veteran than a pitcher in his second season during spring training.
But then what? There has to be some concern about Minor, who is three weeks away from getting his shoulder back in form. If he comes back and makes 30 starts, the Braves probably will be fine. Count me as one who is worried he might not.
Perhaps if Harang and Floyd can combine for 32 starts and are decent, the rotation will stay afloat. But is that asking too much? Is that even possible?
The dominoes just have to fall perfectly for the rotation to be successful. And the other concern is the middle relief unit, which will have several rookies. Maybe they’ll be fine, but it’s something that we’ll have to figure out in the first two months if it’ll be a problem or not.
But the lineup is equally problematic. Will there be consistency, or will there be stretches when several hitters just don’t hit.
Of course, Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton have to bounce back. For two players who hit well below .200 last season, even hitting near .225 might be considered a good season. But the Braves desperately need these two to get closer to .250, which is right above their career batting averages.
The questions don’t end there. What if Jason Heyward gets hurt? What if Heyward struggles as the leadoff man? What if Justin Upton is not consistent? What if Chris Johnson’s 2013 season was a fluke? What if Evan Gattis proves he’s a one-year wonder?
It’s a long season. Six months. A lot can happen. But this team seems to have too many issues, at least right now, to do something special. Perhaps if things to fall in place once Minor and Floyd join the rotation, everything else will work out. Atlanta just looks like a team that might win 83 games this season.
I’m usually optimistic this time of year. You know, the whole “hope springs eternal” stuff that goes with the start of the baseball season. But unfortunately, a decimated rotation provides more skepticism than usual. Maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised when we expect less of a team that certainly did look good on paper only a few weeks ago.
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 at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.