5 Key Injuries That Should Have Crippled the Atlanta Braves
5 Injuries the Atlanta Braves Should Not Have Been Able to Absorb
It’s happened before: a championship team in the making is firing on all cylinders, breezing through their division, looking practically unbeatable, until the unstoppable force that is their winning ways locks horns with the immovable object that is the inevitability of crippling injury.
A star player goes down, perhaps accompanied by one or two supplementary players, and the season changes in the blink of an eye. The clubhouse and dugout suddenly seem somber, the level of play drops significantly -- the season is lost, hopes dashed, and the fans begin dreaming of next year before this one is even over.
It happens every year, often to multiple teams. Early in 2013 it looked to be the Los Angeles Dodgers, but they have (miraculously) managed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. In the AL, it is undoubtedly the Los Angeles Angels; in the NL, the Washington Nationals are leading the race for biggest disappointment (due in large part to injury, but not entirely).
But there is one team that has overcome more than any other this season, and they currently find themselves with the best record in baseball: the Atlanta Braves.
The Braves have been decimated by injury all season long (with some significant injuries coming before the season even started), but they have persevered with an unparalleled tenacity and refusal to quit.
Here are five key injuries the Braves have absorbed that would likely have spelled the demise of other teams.
Tim Hudson Season-Ending Ankle Injury
Tim Hudson went down with a broken ankle on July 24 against the New York Mets. He had been on a brilliant run of form before the season-ending injury, posting a sub 3.00 ERA over the months of June and July. But the Braves didn’t miss a beat, rattling off 14 wins in their next 15 games with Alex Wood and Brandon Beachy holding down Hudson’s spot in the rotation.
Jonny Venters' Tommy John Surgery
Jonny Venters might only be a middle relief pitcher, but he’s a dominant force in the Braves league-best bullpen. Craig Kimbrel aside, Venters was perhaps the most feared arm in the Atlanta pen. When he underwent Tommy John surgery on May 16 to repair a torn ligament in his left elbow, a huge gap opened up in the bullpen – and it only got bigger when Eric O’Flaherty went down.
Eric O'Flaherty's Torn UCL
Two days after Venters’ surgery, on May 18 it was announced that fellow reliever Eric O’Flaherty had suffered a torn UCL and would need to go under the knife himself, ending his season. Losing two bullpen arms might not seem like much, but when you’re talking about the best relief core in baseball in an age of extreme specialization it’s a huge blow. Venters and O’Flaherty were the best in the business, but again the Braves never broke stride. The likes of Jordan Walden, David Carpenter, Anthony Varvaro, Luis Ayala, and Luis Avilan have made it seem as if Venters and O’Flaherty never even left.
Brian McCann's Month-Long Absence
Brian McCann had surgery to repair his ailing right shoulder in the off season and began the year on the DL. The six-time All-Star catcher didn’t play his first game until May 6, well over a month into the season. Since coming off the DL McCann has looked much more himself than he did last year. But in his absence Evan Gattis and Gerald Laird more than got the job done. It’s rare to lose a middle-of-the-lineup bat and not see a sharp decrease in offensive production, but without McCann the Braves just kept on swinging.
Jason Heyward's Broken Jaw
It remains to be seen how the Braves will absorb the loss of Jason Heyward. At the time of his injury last Wednesday, the Atlanta right fielder was in blistering form, hitting nearly .350 over the last month. After moving Heyward to the leadoff position the Braves promptly went on a 14 game winning streak, winning 20 of their next 24 games overall. This may well prove to be the straw that breaks the camel's back, but if the rest of the Braves’ season is any indication they will find a way to just keep winning.