Towards the end of spring training, Atlanta Braves fans began holding their breath following injuries to Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, and Brandon Beachy. Over the first 21 games of the season however, the team’s rebuilt rotation has done nothing but provide one quality start after another on its way to a Major League-best 1.50 ERA.
After entering the season with Medlen and Beachy on the shelf dealing with their second Tommy John Surgeries each, and Minor expected to miss most of the first month, the Braves went to battle with Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Aaron Harang, David Hale, and Ervin Santana as it’s new starting five.
A group consisting of three youngsters who’d combined to make 47 career starts, a journeyman with his sixth team over the past calendar year, and a guy who signed very late in spring training didn’t exactly temper the worry of how reliable the staff could be. However, all that worry has quickly been dismissed now that the Braves are sitting a top the National League East with a 14-7 mark. The starters in that time have allowed two runs or less in 20 of the teams 21 games.
While the Braves’ brass was hoping for top-of-the-rotation stuff from Ervin Santana when they approved raising the payroll to accommodate his $14.1 million salary, the early season performance of Harang far exceeds what the team expected when they inked him to a one-year $1 million deal. How could have they have known he’d be 3-1 with a 0.85 ERA and that he’d be taking no-hitters into the seventh inning in two of his first four starts? It seemed unlikely based on 2013, when Harang compiled a 5-12 record with a 5.40 ERA over 26 starts. Harang’s signing, which happened hours after the team cut ties with fellow veteran Freddy Garcia, seemed like a lateral move at the time, but has proven to be one of the bargains of the offseason.
While the Dodgers, Rockies, Mariners, Mets, and Indians might be scratching their heads trying to figure out what has rejuvenated Harang, Braves’ general manager Frank Wren is looking like a genius through the first four weeks of the season.
While a lot of people try to live by the motto “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” the Braves are sitting in a nice position with their best starter from last year, Mike Minor, slated to rejoin the team next week, and Gavin Floyd set to return from his own Tommy John Surgery in the coming weeks.
An abundance of starting pitching is always a nice luxury to have, but when everyone returns to full health, the team will have seven guys for five spots. David Hale will most likely be the odd man out when Minor returns, but a trade could be imminent down the road if Floyd returns to form and the current rotation continues to pitch out of their minds.
Just to put the staff’s early success into perspective, opening day starter and newly designated ace Julio Teheran, ranks 10th in the NL and fourth on his own team with a 1.80 ERA through his first five starts. He delivered a three-hit shutout against the Phillies last week, and then returned to the hill Monday only to limit the Marlins to one run over seven innings.
If the club’s all-or-nothing bats can find a consistent medium between mashing and being shutout, the team might find itself being the surprise winner of the division for the second year in a row. While it’s still early in the season, the team’s production during this first month has been fun to watch given the uphill climb they were thought to be facing following its pitching injuries.