Everybody and their brother thought the Atlanta Braves’ starting pitching could be an issue this season. And now, everybody and their brother feel awfully foolish since Atlanta’s starting pitching might be the story in baseball through the first three weeks of the season.
It’s shocking, really, that entering Saturday’s play, the Braves’ rotation had the best ERA in baseball. And it’s not even close. Atlanta’s starters had a 1.47 ERA, while the next closest team was Oakland with a 2.45 mark.
We need to remember it’s early, and that statistic could change with one bad or even one ordinary start in one game. But it certainly is impressive.
Consider the fact that in late March, the Braves were not even sure who would fill out the rotation. And it should also be noted that after the season-ending injuries to starters Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy in mid-March, many players on the team were skeptical they could even have a winning season.
Don’t underestimate how crushing it was for Atlanta to lose Medlen and Beachy, two players who were expected to combine for 60 starts this season. There are not many teams that could survive that, and then to add fuel to the fire, Mike Minor, another starter, was barely throwing bullpen sessions as he was dealing with a shoulder issue.
Signing veteran free agent Ervin Santana on March 12 lifted everyone’s spirits around the team. The players seemed to appreciate that management believed they could still win if they got help. But then, in late March, the uncertainty was not eased by questions about the final two rotation spots.
Freddy Garcia, brought back in January as insurance, was all of a sudden thrust into the potential fourth starter’s role. But the team never felt comfortable with Garcia and released him even before it had a replacement.
And then David Hale, who was originally scheduled to be the top starter in Triple-A but with the injuries was guaranteed a spot in the major league rotation, struggled so much that the team almost gave the final rotation spot to Gus Schlosser, another rookie who did well in his two chances to start in spring training.
There was a stretch of about four or five days when the Braves knew they would have Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Ervin Santana, but beyond that they really were not sure.
That’s a bad feeling for a team not knowing how the rotation would fill out, and that’s why you heard the phrase “survive April” over and over again. The Braves believed Minor would be back sometime in late April or early May, and he’s on schedule to do just that. Then they also hoped veteran Gavin Floyd, who was signed in December, would come back from his Tommy John surgery sometime in May.
So that’s why general manager Frank Wren on March 22 said this about making it through the first month of the season: “We’ve got to get through the first three weeks of the season. If we can get through the first three weeks and not lose too much ground or put the pressure on our offense to keep us in games, we’ll be in good shape.”
Wren is the one who should be given credit. He let Garcia go and signed Aaron Harang two days after making that comment. Harang had been released by Cleveland. The Braves hoped Harang could give them four or five starts until Floyd returned.
Instead, Harang leads the major leagues in ERA. He no-hit the New York Mets for seven innings Friday and has practically been unhittable in his four starts. Now Harang, a pitcher who has been with six organizations in the past three years, is going to be hard to kick out of the rotation regardless of who is ready to come back.
Add Harang to Santana being tremendous in his first two starts and Teheran and Wood carrying over their great success from spring training, and you’ve got one heck of a rotation so far.
Forget about surviving April. The Braves are once again in control of the NL East. This will be a race with Washington the entire season, but this start by the rotation will give the Braves a great chance of being tough to beat once again.
And who would have guessed it a month ago? No one, not one person would have ever believed this would happen. But that’s baseball, as they say. Things can change pretty quickly when a team gets good pitching.
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 email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.