Team Profile – Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves made history last year by suffering arguably the most historic collapse in the history of Major League Baseball. They held the N.L. Wild Card by plenty, but in the last three weeks of the season they disappeared from the game of baseball, and allowed the St. Louis Cardinals sneak into the playoffs on the last day of the season. 2012 is shaping up much like 2011, with the Braves currently holding strong to one of the two wild card spots. Can they keep it up? Or will they once again fade down the stretch?
The Braves’ starting rotation is a mixed bag this season. Jair Jurrjens, Mike Minor, and Randall Delgado have all had subpar seasons, and all three have losing records right now. Jurrjens has arguably been the Braves’ ace for the last few seasons, but he’s only managed 10 starts so far, and currently finds himself on the Disabled List. Luckily, the rest of the starting five (Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson) are doing about as well as the best in baseball right now. Hudson is 11-4 with a 3.45 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. Hanson is 12-5, but his ERA and WHIP are a little elevated (4.29 and 1.44). The replacements for Jurrjens and Delgado are doing well thus far – Kris Medlen has a 1.74 ERA in two starts, and Ben Sheets has a 1.46 ERA in four starts. The Braves could use the return of Brandon Beachy from the Disabled List, too. Beachy has an unbelievable 0.96 WHIP through 13 starts, but just wasn’t getting the run support early on. Despite that, when a pitcher is giving up less than one walk and/or hit per inning, then you want him on the mound, no matter what his record is.
For the last 19 seasons, Atlanta has been led by third baseman Chipper Jones. Jones is one of the top five active hit leaders in the majors, and has always been a rock for the teams that have surrounded him over the years. He has already said that 2012 will be his final season in the game, and he’s going out with a bang. He suffered some injury early on, but has still managed to put up a .320 average through 69 games. While not the power hitter of the team, .320 is a great number for any player on any team. Luckily for Chipper, there are others on the team who are also hitting very well. Martin Prado is hitting a solid .300; Michael Bourn is at .286; and the power threat of Jason Heyward is at .270. With so many guys hitting so well with this team, it’s amazing that they’re not leading the division by five or more games. If not for the unexpectedly outstanding play of the Nationals all season long, the Braves would probably be the odds-on favorite to represent the N.L. East in the postseason.
Like [some of] the starting rotation members, the Braves’ bullpen is phenomenal. There are relievers like Eric O’Flaherty, Kris Medlen, Luis Avilan, and Chad Durbin who have all put up very respectable ERAs and WHIPs. Of course, the real story in the National League right now is the Atlanta closer: Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel has a 1.29 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, and 31/33 in save opportunities. There will be some stiff competition from the likes of R.A. Dickey and other starters, but Kimbrel has officially had his name put into the Cy Young Award conversation. With numbers like his, it’s almost a guarantee that he’ll be in the conversation to the very end. It’s a bullpen that’s loaded enough that it can make up for the current shortcomings of the starting rotation, and easily keep the team in games until nine innings have been played.
Keys to Success
With a very solid offense, an outstanding bullpen, and plenty of fresh arms stepping up to keep the rotation intact, the Braves are in a prime position to maintain control of one wild card spot until the end of the season. What could only help would be the starters getting healthy and back to work, especially Jair Jurrjens. With that added help, this team will be in great shape. Also, there’s been a lot of talk by the Nationals about shutting down Steven Strasburg at 160 innings pitched this season. Of course, that was before Washington was holding the lead in the division for the first four months. Whether they actually shut him down or not remains to be seen, but if he is taken out (in preparation for a postseason run), it’ll be the perfect time for the Braves to make a move toward the top of the division.