As the season winds down, it's time for reflection. It's time to figure out why the Atlanta Braves are missing the playoffs for the third straight season.
But it's not really a mystery. Injuries killed any hope this team had early on to get back to playing baseball in October. Yes, you can question the wisdom of going with older pitchers. But no one, no one, could have predicted this severe of a breakdown of the Atlanta rotation.
John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Tim Hudson combined for only 40 starts this season. It was hoped they'd combined for perhaps twice that many. But Smoltz had shoulder surgery, and Glavine had work done on his elbow, while Hudson got a new ligament.
But here's the question. Let's say that rotation had stayed in tact. Let's say Smoltz, Glavine, and Hudson had stayed relatively healthy. Would the Braves have still had a horrible season?
It's one thing to lose the rotation, but many forget that the two main relievers coming out of spring training were Rafael Soriano and Peter Moylan. But Moylan pitched in only seven games, while Soriano pitched in only fourteen games. Both would also visit Dr. James Andrews and have elbow surgeries.
Not many teams can lose the top three starters in its rotation and its top two relievers and survive. That's what happened this season to the Atlanta Braves. Smoltz, Hudson, and Glavine were penciled in as the top three in the rotation, and Soriano and Moylan were the top two relievers. But not one lasted, and the injuries crippled the team.
Mike Gonzalez would return to the bullpen in June and has pitched in 32 games so far this season. His return was desperately needed and for the most part Gonzo has been effective. But losing the expected closer and his main setup man was hard to recover from. It also resulted in Blaine Boyer (76 games so far) and Will Ohman (80) being overworked and had the team rely on guys like Julian Tavarez and Jeff Bennett as setup men.
So what if the rotation had been relatively healthy? Would this team have been able to compete if the bullpen had been the only part of the pitching staff to break down?
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Bill Shanks hosts The Atlanta Baseball Show on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and The Bill Shanks Show on SportsRadio 105.5 the Fan in Macon. He is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. You can email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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