Lots of uncertainty within Braves rotation
After the Braves swept the first two games of last week’s series against the Giants, one of the club’s veterans was casually talking about how they had entered the week thinking they would be in good position if they could split that four-game series against the defending World Series and then take two of three from the D-backs.
At this time last week, the Braves owned a four-game advantage over the second-place Giants in the National League Wild Card race and they were two games better than the D-backs, who stood as the other most likely Wild Card threat in the event that the Giants overtook them in the NL West standings.
Well after taking three of four from the Giants and sweeping the D-backs, the Braves enter tonight’s series opener against the Cubs with an eight-game lead over the Giants. The D-backs now stand just 1 1/2 games in front of the Giants, but are 6 1/2 games behind the Braves.
Things could certainly turn crazy over the season’s final 34 games and you definitely aren’t going to hear anybody in the Braves clubhouse saying they have clinched anything yet. But it’s been a little while since they have been able to be this comfortable this late in a season.
As you likely remember, the Braves clinched last year’s playoff spot a few hours after they had played their 162nd and final scheduled game of the regular season. On the way to winning the last of their 14 consecutive division titles in 2005, the Braves owned a 2 1/2-game division lead over the Phillies, who were leading the Wild Card at that point.
Through the 128th games of the 2003 and ’04 seasons, the Braves possessed division leads of 11 1/2 and 9 1/2 games, respectively. So in essence it has been seven years since you the fan has entered August’s final week feeling this confident that you will see the Braves in October.
As the Braves continue to fight to secure a second straight playoff spot, the focus will be on their once reliable starting rotation. Tim Hudson has gone 8-1 with a 1.91 ERA over his past 12 starts and as things stand today, he seemingly stands as the only current Atlanta starter who will definitely get a postseason start.
Brandon Beachy has certainly pitched well enough to earn a playoff start. But it will be interesting to see how the 24-year-old reacts down the stretch as he nears the end of the first full season of his life as a starting pitcher. Looking back, it might have been a blessing that he missed a little more than a month with a strained oblique muscle earlier this year.
But Beachy, who became a full-time starter about 14 months ago, has already thrown 108 1/3 (113 1/3 if you include rehab start w/ Gwinnett) innings in 19 starts this season. He set professional highs last year with 119 1/3 innings and 13 starts.
If the Braves are able to keep their comfortable advantage, Beachy is certainly somebody who could benefit from the chance to rest a little bit in September. But right now, there is no way to confidently predict how he might perform down the stretch.
Tommy Hanson has certainly benefited from the fact the Braves have gained an even more comfortable advantage in the Wild Card race. But given that he was still feeling tightness when he returned from the disabled list to face the Mariners in June 28, the Braves needed to give him as much time as necessary this time to calm the tendinitis in his right shoulder.
It now sounds like the Braves might wait until at least the first week of September to bring Hanson back.
Speaking of September, Derek Lowe will once again have a chance to make a surprising run through September and suddenly become a no-doubt member of the postseason rotation. He did it last year and in 2008 for the Dodgers.
Of course he was also removed from the Red Sox rotation in late September of 2004. But he did still manage to record the win in each of the three postseason series during that magical year for Boston fans.
So you can’t completely remove Lowe from the mix yet. Nor can you be certain what you will think of Jair Jurrjens by the time October arrives.
Over the past few seasons fans have pointed out Jurrjens’ BaBIP (Batting Average Balls in Play) and other statistics while arguing that he was not as good as his ERA might indicate. I understand the arguments and believe they have at least some merit.
But instead of crunching those numbers right now, it’s quite safe to assume most knew Jurrjens was not going to maintain the sub 2.00 ERA he carried into the All-Star break. At the same time, I don’t think anybody expected he would post a 6.52 ERA and allow opponents to construct a .939 OPS in his first five starts back from the break.
As long as Jurrjens proves to be somewhere in the middle of these two extremes over the remainder of the season, there’s a good chance he will be part of that postseason rotation.
After his last start Jurrjens and Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he looked a little rusty while pitching for the first time in a little more than two weeks.
Well if that essentially served as his Minor League rehab start then tonight’s outing against the Cubs might be a better indicator of what to expect from Jurrjens down the stretch.