The Atlanta Braves' Ben Sheets May Have Hit the Wall

By Michael Collins

In July, the Atlanta Braves picked up starting pitcher Ben Sheets after two years away from baseball.  It was a low-risk/high-reward type of signing.  If Sheets did well, he’d be hailed as an amazing comeback story who helped bring the Braves back to post-season play.  If he flopped, the Braves spent a minimal amount of money to give another aging pitcher a shot.

Full marks to Braves GM Frank Wren for thinking outside the box when it came to Sheets, and things started off just grand. Sheets was untouchable in his first three starts, but then things started to slowly come apart, little by little. If you were watching closely, you could see it coming…

This week, the wheels fell off the bus.

His latest start was a loss coming against the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he gave up six earned runs, including four home runs in six innings.

From 3-0 with a 0.50 ERA,  to 4-3 with a 3.07 ERA.   One earned run given up in his first three starts, 14 earned runs given up in his next four starts. And each start has gotten progressively worse.

It’s becoming apparent that Sheets’ first few starts weren’t magic, or rejuvenated pitching mojo, or any type of great stuff he was bringing.  It was the equivalent of a new, young pitcher coming up from the minor leagues.  Hitters hadn’t really seen him before, and they weren’t quite sure what to expect.  Even hitters who had faced Sheets in the past didn’t really have a book on him anymore.

Now they do.

Now that Sheets has more than a handful of starts under his belt this season, hitters have seen him, seen film on him, and seen that his 88mph fastball isn’t going to fool them. Yes, he’s added a couple of new pitches, but the bottom line is that, outside of his outstanding curve ball, Sheets just doesn’t have anything else in his repertoire that’s going to keep major league hitters off balance.

This isn’t a knock on Sheets.  I give full credit and respect to Ben Sheets for even attempting a comeback.  I mean, the guy was coaching little league and throwing the ball around when he was approached by Braves scouts.

But too many people jumped on that Ben Sheets bandwagon, and were convinced that he had the strength to keep it moving.  Personally, I was content to walk along beside it, and see how things played out.

Things played out pretty much like I expected.

Ben Sheets filled a void.  He came up big for the Braves when the Braves needed someone to step in for a time.  The Braves might not even be where they are in the wild card hunt right now if it weren’t for Sheets.

That said, short of him suddenly regaining the ability to break 93mph with his fastball, I wouldn’t count on Sheets being a part of that final five-man rotation in September.  His contributions during July and August were key, and shouldn’t be overlooked, but for the Braves to count on him as one of the pennant run or post-season horses would be a huge mistake.

Ben Sheets isn’t a pitcher that the Braves can ride to October.  And that’s OK.  He helped get them there.

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