The Atlanta Braves are still winning. However, they are doing it in a fashion that Braves fan's aren't accustomed to – offense first, pitching second. Even despite this new philosophy, the Braves currently find themselves in very unfamiliar territory.
With Pittsburgh Pirates pitching Jeff Suppan pitching a complete game shutout of the Colorado Rockies on Sunday, the Braves are the only team in Major League Baseball who doesn't have a complete game from a pitcher.
The obvious reason for this is John Smoltz. If a game is remotely close in the 8th inning, the Braves feel that bringing in Smoltz to close out the game is the safer choice. I can't say that I disagree with this method – but even Smoltz needs a day or two off.
The list of pitchers that could buck this trend isn't very long.
Maddux hasn't been sharp at all this season and he needs to focus on going six innings and keeping the Braves in the game before thinking of nine.
Mike Hampton has had some flashes of the pitcher that made him Cy Young contender in the past, but he is still a work in progress.
Horacio Ramirez isn't fair enough removed from that Tommy John surgery. He is on a more strict pitch count than Atlanta is accustomed to despite Mazzone's hatred for the count over watching the pitcher.
Shane Reynolds is in danger of losing his spot in the rotation and while he has been lucky to get run support – he has an ERA over 6. Marquis, Hodges or possibly Bong would be the likely choices to replace him in the rotation if he is removed. Hodges and Bong have been pitching in relief and would need to develop some stamina before even thinking about going nine innings.
There have been a couple of starts where Russ Ortiz, who has emerged as the Braves ace, looked as if he could finish it, but manage Bobby Cox seems confident enough in the bridge to get to John Smoltz that he pulls his him at the first sign of trouble.
Being the last team to throw a complete game also means that our bullpen is working a lot more than other teams. Ray King is leading the league in appearances. Let's hope they are fresh come September and hopefully October.
While complete game victories are very exciting to watch, I'd rather the pitchers finish early now, rather than in the team finishing early in the playoffs. Again.
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