Posts Tagged ‘starting rotation

02
Feb
10

Can Braves rotation withstand the loss of Vazquez?

It’s day two of the Braves’ voluntary two-week, pre-spring training pitching camp at Turner Field, a program created and designed by former pitching coach Leo Mazzone to help the team’s pitchers get back on the mound early to alleviate the off-season rust.

The program, which was formerly known as “Camp Leo”, is now run by Roger McDowell but still preaches the same formula for success that has helped the Atlanta Braves build a pitching dynasty over the years.

This year’s camp opened yesterday with the club’s starting staff already facing a bounty of questions about how they plan to duplicate last season’s numbers.

Braves starters led the majors with a 3.52 ERA while compiling the second most innings (986), proving to be a steady and durable force in 2009.

Entering Spring Training this year, Atlanta is trying to maintain that level of excellence minus one very critical piece — their workhorse ace Javier Vazquez.

Vazquez (15-10, 2.87 ERA) was traded to the Yankees in December after the Braves found themselves with one starter too many.

Many baseball pundits question whether this year’s staff can withstand the loss of Vazquez?

If the Braves rotation hopes to replicate last season’s success, the majority of the load that was carried by Vazquez now shifts to 34-year-old Tim Hudson.

The Braves opted to re-sign Hudson to a three-year, $28-million dollar extension in November after the former 20-game winner made a successful return from Tommy John surgery late last year.

In seven starts after re-joining the Braves rotation, Hudson went 2-1 with a solid 3.61 ERA.

Hudson joins a staff comprised of Jair Jurrjens, Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson and Kenshin Kawakami.

Jurrjens and Hanson are the team’s rising young stars and should serve as the backbone of this rotation for the foreseeable future.

Atlanta should also benefit from getting a full season out of Tommy Hanson, who finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting this winter.

The Braves called up their rookie sensation in June and watched Hanson soar to an 11-4 record with a 2.89 ERA in 21 starts.

Atlanta is hoping Lowe bounces back and enjoys a resurgent season after the veteran righty struggled in his first year with the Braves.

While still netting 15 wins for the club, Lowe also posted a 4.67 ERA, second-highest of his career.

Kawakami is expected to improve in his second season in the U.S.

The Japanese standout was a 33-year-old rookie last season and ended the year with an impressive 3.86 ERA despite a 7-12 record.

Despite losing Vazquez, Atlanta’s rotation is still stacked with a plethora of talent and a good mix of youth and experience.

Whether the talent on paper translates to wins on the field rests largely on not just the starters but the entire staff’s ability to stay healthy.

Atlanta’s additions of Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito at the back end of their bullpen should benefit the rotation by giving the team security late in games.

But, with Wagner’s history of injuries and the age of these hurlers, it is critical that both relievers don’t get overworked in an effort to preserve them for the duration of the season.

The good news is the always pitching rich Braves have the pieces in place yet again to put up impressive numbers while contending for a playoff spot.

It is not often a team could lose a Cy Young candidate, like the Braves did in Vazquez, and still have a chance to have arguably one of the deepest rotations in baseball.

All these years later, the importance of a pre-spring training pitching camp is not lost on the Braves or the pitchers who jump at the opportunity to participate in it.

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03
Aug
09

The state of the Braves… post trade deadline.

Adam LaRoche returns to Atlanta

Adam LaRoche returns to Atlanta

The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline has come and gone leaving many in Braves Nation wondering, does this team have the horses to be legitimate contenders for a playoff spot heading down the stretch?

Before Monday night’s game against the San Diego Padres, the Braves find themselves in third place in the National League East, seven games behind first place Philadelphia. While the division remains a lofty goal for Atlanta, it is certainly not out of reach.

The Braves have dominated the defending champions this season winning seven of nine games against them. The Bravos overwhelming success against the Fightin’ Phils coupled with the fact that the two rivals are still scheduled to meet nine more times before the season concludes, offers a definite sense of hope.

Still, Philadelphia has been riding a hot streak since the All-Star Break and with the addition of a bona fide ace to their rotation in Cliff Lee, the division does appear to be a long shot.

That means Atlanta’s best chance of playing October baseball will likely be if the team nabs the National League Wild Card.

The Braves are only five games out of the Wild Card spot but are chasing four teams, including the Florida Marlins, another divisional foe.

So, are the Braves contenders or pretenders?

With a starting rotation that ranked third in the National League heading into Sunday night’s game against the Dodgers, and a revamped line-up which has improved on the dearth of power that has plagued the team all season long, the Braves seem poised to make a run.

In July, the Braves manufactured an NL-best .828 OPS and ranked third in both runs (139) and home runs (32). That production is a stark contrast from an inconsistent and often shoddy offensive showing from the team in the season’s first three months.

The Braves also feel their mid-season acquisitions of Nate McLouth and Adam LaRoche give the club a more potent offensive punch going forward.

McLouth has been a stabilizing force in the lead-off spot, allowing the rest of the line-up to gel and settle into their roles.

LaRoche, who played for Atlanta through the 2006 season, knows the organization well and has statistically performed big in the second half of the season.

While LaRoche’s career .252 batting average leaves something to be desired, his .295 average after the All-Star break combined with his impending free agency, are reasons why the Braves decided to re-acquire their former slick fielding first baseman.

The improved offense stands to benefit what has been a solid, but often under-appreciated Braves pitching staff.

A rotation comprised of Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, Javier Vazquez, Kenshin Kawakami, and rookie sensation Tommy Hanson could go up against any rotation in baseball.

And, in the coming weeks, the Braves staff looks to get that much stronger and deeper with the return of Tim Hudson from Tommy John surgery.

The Braves bullpen boasts three relievers in the top six in appearances in Peter Moylan (58), Mike Gonzalez (53) and Eric O’Flaherty (43).

While the back of the bullpen has held up thus far, the team wouldn’t mind adding another arm to the mix for the stretch run.

Any reliever acquired would have to pass through waivers, sometimes making it harder for a team to complete a deal, although the Braves are still exploring any and all options.

If the Braves could indeed bolster their bullpen, that fresh arm could provide added security to what could otherwise become an overexposed relief corps.

So, again, the question looms… contenders or pretenders?

The Braves have given every indication, on the field and off, that they are poised, confident and ready to compete for a playoff spot.

It was the team’s consistently strong starting pitching that has kept them afloat early in the season and it will be the team’s starting pitching that will give them their best shot at October.

One can never have enough pitching. Good pitching beats good hitting. These age old adages have been proven true time and time again and are the main reason why the Braves were able to win fourteen consecutive division titles.

With that being said… do the Braves still have holes?

Absolutely.

But, so does every team.

And, this team’s holes have become increasingly less glaring.

So, buckle up Braves fans. It’s going to be a wild ride to the finish.

25
Apr
09

Rebuilt rotation living up to the billing…

The Atlanta Braves stressed a need to drastically improve their starting rotation this off-season.

Infact, General Manager Frank Wren made it the team’s No. 1 off-season priority.

Last season, Braves starters were dogged with injuries so severe that it cost the team a chance to compete for a playoff spot — by mid-season.

Wren had his work cut out for him this winter and he often came up short in his pursuit of a bonafide ace. Losing out on Jake Peavy and A.J. Burnett, Wren was forced to turn his focus elsewhere.

So far, so good. In the early going, his three key off-season acquisitions have lived up to the hype.

Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez and Kenshin Kawakami, the new additions to the rotation, along with the only remaining healthy member of last season’s staff Jair Jurrjens hold the National League’s second-best ERA (3.27) and have logged the third-most innings (88) less than a month into the season.

The ability for the starters to go deep into games has been a luxury for a bullpen that was overexposed last year. That ripple effect should prove fruitful for the entire pitching staff.

Atlanta got off to a hot 5-1 start before stumbling as of late. The team is in the midst of a 2-5 stretch. Despite the slump and some injuries to some key offensive performers, the Braves feel the early success of their starters will help them right the ship and keep them relevant throughout the season.

29
Jan
09

Brave New Rotation

The Atlanta Braves starting rotation has underwent a great deal of change this winter, and with Spring Training on the horizon, even more changes could be on the way.

The Braves have worked hard this off-season to rebuild a starting rotation that was depleted by injuries last season. The team acquired veteran right-hander Javier Vazquez from the Chicago White Sox in hopes of providing a stablizing force at the top of the rotation. Vazquez is steady if not flashy, winning at least 10 games in nine straight seasons and most importantly, pitching at least 200 innings in eight out of those nine seasons.

After adding Vazquez to the mix, the Braves continued their search for a proven ace to place atop their new look rotation. The team attempted to land Padres ace Jake Peavy via trade and also tried to sign free agent starter A.J. Burnett, but failed in both attempts.

In another shocking turn of events, Atlanta Braves pitching legend John Smoltz shocked the baseball world by leaving the only professional team he’s ever played for to sign a one-year contract with the Boston Red Sox. Many baseball experts and pundits predicted Smoltz would retire a Brave.

In the midst of the shock of Smoltz’s departure, the team finally found success in its search for more rotation help and added not one but two new starters, quelling some of teammates and fans concern.

The Braves signed Japanese free agent starter Kenshin Kawakami, making him the first Japanese player in franchise history. Kawakami spent the last 11 seasons as one of the top Japanese pitchers in the Japan’s Central League. Kawakami went 9-5 with a 2.30 ERA last season for the Chunichi Dragons before missing almost three weeks in September due to a strained back. Kawakami passed a physical before signing with the Braves and is expected to be a healthy and vital part of the Braves rotation this coming season.

In the same week that the Braves held a press conference announcing the signing of Kawakami, the Braves finally landed their much sought after ace. Atlanta increased its pursuit of Los Angeles Dodgers free agent Derek Lowe after John Smoltz officially departed for Beantown. The Braves finally got their man, inticing Lowe to sign a four year, 60-million dollar contract with the club. Lowe, 35, has proven to be one of baseball’s most reliable starters. He has averaged 15 wins and over 200 innings over the past seven seasons. Lowe, who is known for his sinkerball, will anchor a potentially strong Braves staff in 2009.

The Braves have penciled in the first four slots of their rotation for the coming season. While the order has yet to be decided, the team knows Lowe will lead a staff that will also be comprised of Vazquez, returning phenom Jair Jurrjens, who enjoyed a successful rookie season and Kawakami. The fifth slot remains up for grabs but storied Braves pitcher Tom Glavine has his eye of the spot.

At this point, Glavine’s future with the team remains up in the air. Glavine is recovering from surgery to repair the torn flexor in his pitching elbow and has yet to decide whether he will pitch another season or retire. Glavine’s rehabilitation is going well after throwing two mound sessions and the hurler has said if he does return he hopes to work out a deal to remain in Atlanta and retire a Brave.




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