Pitching will be the key

Julio Teheran and the starting pitchers will be crucial to the Braves' success this season.

Remember thirty years ago when the Atlanta Braves were known as a team with power hitters? It was all about Dale Murphy and Bob Horner, two guys who regularly hit home runs in the old ballpark affectionately known as “The Launching Pad.”

The Braves had a hard time developing pitchers back then. It wasn’t until Bobby Cox, then the general manager in the late 1980s, made a commitment to pitching that changed everything.

Now, the Braves had two pitchers go into the Hall of Fame last year and another one going in this summer. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz changed how the Braves were viewed. It’s all about the pitching, even with those three long gone.

That’s what’s amazing. The Braves are still a pitching-oriented organization, even after the big three have thrown their last pitch.

The Braves have finished at least fifth in team ERA in the Major Leagues in each of the last six seasons. That’s without the big three and without Leo Mazzone, the pitching coach given credit for years of success.

Give Roger McDowell, the pitching coach, tremendous credit for the success. It’s really been a revolving door of pitchers over these last six seasons, but McDowell’s staffs have been excellent.

This year the Braves will rely on pitching. There is concern about Atlanta’s offense, even though it’s doubtful it could be worse than last season when the team finished next to last in runs scored. But it’s a new lineup, with five new players, so there is uncertainty until they prove they can be better than last year’s group.

So the pitching will be counted on to carry the team. And three 24-year-olds will lead the way.

Julio Teheran is the ace. He’s won 14 games in each of the last two seasons. Teheran is one of the best young pitchers in the game. The same can be said of Alex Wood, who proved last season he’s a solid starter. And newcomer Shelby Miller has had a great spring.

Miller was acquired in the Jason Heyward ---trade, and there’s a good chance he’s finally ready to become one of baseball’s best pitchers.

Mike Minor is out for a while with a bum shoulder, and that is a concern. It looks like two veterans will round out the rotation. Wandy Rodriguez and Eric Stults have done well this spring. Don’t discount the possibility that Atlanta could trade one or both of these two when Minor returns and when young Mike Foltynewicz is ready.

“Folty,” as he is nicknamed, came from Houston as part of the price for Evan Gattis. There is a great debate going on about whether or not Foltynewicz is ready to be a member of the rotation. He might need a bit more time in Triple-A to start the season, but at some point the hard-throwing Foltynewicz will be part of the rotation.

Craig Kimbrel remains the best closer in the game. He’ll be set up by Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson, two former closers who have done well this spring. The middle relief is a little unsettled, but there are enough solid pitchers in the organization to where it should not be an issue.

If this staff can be good, and especially if it can be as good as the ones from the last six seasons, the Braves are going to be competitive. That will put the pressure squarely on the offense to determine just what kind of season the Braves will have. But if the pitching struggles, for whatever reason, it could be a long year.

Pitching has always dictated the Braves’ seasons. When it got good, they got good. The hope is the pitching won’t fail them this season, when they may need it the most.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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