Some might still choose to argue the point, but there really is no discussion to be had: the Atlanta Braves had the best pitching staff in all of baseball last season. With a team ERA of 3.18, the Braves got more quality starts (102) from a young pitching staff than any other team, save the Detroit Tigers (108).
But that should come as no surprise; since the onset of the dynasty in Atlanta in 1991 the Braves have been a pitching-centric team. The likes of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine ushered in an era of utter dominance on the mound that lasted for 14 consecutive years. Throw in solid and sometimes-spectacular performances and seasons by pitchers like Steve Avery, Denny Neagle (third in the Cy Young in 1997) and Kevin Millwood, and the Braves’ pitching dominance throughout the 1990′s and early 2000′s was simply unrivaled.
And while it is the Atlanta offense that has garnered most of the attention this offseason, it will again be the pitching staff that carries the team furthest.
Four of the five spots in the starting rotation are as good as set. Mike Minor, Kris Medlen, Julio Teheran and Brandon Beachy occupy the top four slots. Minor and Medlen both have yet to sign contract extensions, but many view Minor as the ace-in-waiting of the staff and Medlen quietly led all Atlanta starters in ERA last year at 3.11. Teheran recently signed a six-year, $32.4 million contract with a team option for a seventh year at $12 million, potentially pushing the total contract to $44.4 million. Needless to say, the Braves have high hopes for the 23-year-old Colombian native and there is no reason to believe he won’t be in Atlanta for a long time to come. The kid has Pedro Martinez written all over him. Here’s to hoping he has a career that will allow him to be mentioned in the same breath as Pedro when all is said and done.
Beachy is the only one of the four “locks” that there may be lingering questions about. Before going down with an elbow injury in 2012, Beachy was leading the league with a 2.00 ERA. He was right in the thick of the Cy Young conversation, but upon his return to the starting rotation in 2013 he looked to be anything but the pitcher he was the year before. He was rusty to say the least, and after making just five starts he went under the knife again to clean out some scar tissue in his elbow, thus ending his 2013 campaign before it really even got started.
It still remains to be seen whether or not Beachy can replicate his spectacular form from two years ago. He won’t be expected to be that good, but the fact that a previous league-leader in ERA currently occupies the number four spot in the starting rotation should have Braves fans and coaches salivating.
As long as Beachy doesn’t experience a setback, there will be one rotational spot for three pitchers: Gavin Floyd, Freddy Garcia and Alex Wood (I’m leaving David Hale out of the mix as I don’t think he has much of a chance, but I’d love for him to prove me wrong). Floyd likely has the edge right now, but he isn’t scheduled to come off the DL until July. Garcia is certainly on his last leg, and there is a lot of speculation that if he doesn’t make the team out of Spring Training he may retire. Wood has been extremely impressive in his limited time with the big league club, and I expect he will be the one who mans the five spot in the rotation until Floyd’s return. If he does well enough it could be a challenge for Floyd to take the spot from him.
Regardless, the Braves once again find themselves in a highly favorable position regarding pitching. The final rotation prediction to start the year: Minor, Medlen, Teheran, Beachy, Wood.