Understanding and analyzing what the competition is up to is often just as important to knowing what the Nationals are up to. With Opening Day upon us, it’s time we start taking a look at the rosters heading into the season for each of Washington’s division rivals. Once we run through each of the four divisional opponents, we’ll sum everything up and make some predictions.
Our Season Preview series led off with an examination of the New York Mets. We followed with a look at the Miami Marlins’ pitching staff and then Philadelphia’s. Philadelphia’s position players came next and then we moved on to Atlanta’s. We then finished up the position player side of things with a look at Miami’s. Finally, we’ll address Atlanta’s pitching staff.
Pitching has been a calling card of the Braves’ success over the past 20 years. When the team’s remarkable run began in the early 1990s it was because of a staff led by the likes of Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery. Once Greg Maddux was added via free agency things really took off.
The Braves of late have been building towards a repeat performance, in a sense, as they’ve been developing a number of quality arms over the past few seasons. Now, those efforts may start to pay off as the team’s starting rotation is comprised almost entirely of home grown talent. Building around a young nucleus of talented pitchers worked for the Braves in the 1990s and it just might be the path they follow once again.
Atlanta will start the season with a starting rotation of Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, and Randall Delgado. Jurrjens, who’s 26, is the oldest of the group and the only one who wasn’t originally drafted or signed by the Braves organization (he came from Detroit in a 2007 trade). Each of the five pitchers has shown just as much potential as they have inconsistencies and they all enter the 2012 facing certain questions.
Hanson’s health is a concern, particularly after some shoulder trouble has sapped some of his velocity. He was able to make only 22 starts and pitch only 130.0 innings last season, totals he needs to exceed if he’s going to become the Ace of this pitching staff. The right-hander was 11-7 last year with a 3.60 ERA.
Jurrjens was rumored to be on the trade block for much of the winter, with some citing a poor work ethic as a source of concern. He also missed some time in 2011, making only 23 starts and pitching 152.0 innings, and will need to remain healthy (he missed time in 2010 as well). He did go 13-6 with a 2.96 ERA in those outings, proving what kind of pitching he’s capable of being.
Minor, Beachy, and Delgado are all highly inexperienced. Minor and Beachy have appeared in games across each of the past two seasons and have roughly 25 starts (Minor, 23; Beachy, 28) apiece in their careers. Delgado made 7 starts last year and has only thrown 35.0 innings in the Majors to date.
But while they appear to need depth, the Braves actually have a fair amount of it. First and foremost, the veteran right-hander of the staff is not on the Opening Day roster solely because he’s still recovering from an offseason back surgery. Once Tim Hudson is healthy, which is expected to be early May, he’ll return to the rotation. The Braves also have right-hander Julio Teheran who will start the season pitching out of the rotation in Triple-A. Arodys Vizcaino, another right-handed prospect, will miss the 2012 season due to Tommy John surgery.
To further add to the list, the Braves also have Kris Medlen slated to work out of the bullpen, possibly in a setup role. There seems to be a growing sentiment among Braves bloggers that Medlen might be best suited for the starting rotation. There doesn’t seem to be much interest in making such a move by the organization, though considering their depth there doesn’t seem to be a need.
Of course, one of Atlanta’s strengths in 2011 was the back end of their bullpen. Closer Craig Kimbrel won the NL Rookie of the Year Award. Left-handers Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty had strong seasons as well. The trio shortened games and could all be just as good in 2012.
Medlen, Christian Martinez, Chad Durbin, and Livan Hernandez will round out the bullpen. Durbin spent the Spring in Nationals camp and nearly won a spot in the bullpen. He opted out of his minor league contract and signed with Atlanta earlier this week. Hernandez, who Nationals fans know well, had signed a minor league deal with Houston during the offseason. He too, was cut earlier in the week and immediately signed with the Braves.