There were a lot of people during Spring Training that picked the Braves to win the World Series, and they all said the same thing: Pitching is deep, the offense is loaded, the Braves are back.
Only problem with that argument is that the pitching isn’t really back. When the Braves of the 1990’s were winning behind guys like Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz, all of those pitchers were in their late 20’s, an age at which 99.9% of all baseball players hit their statistical peak. Fast forward to the 2008 season, and the Braves are now dependent on 32 year old Tim Hudson, 41 year old John Smotlz, 42 year old Tom Glavine, and 22 year old Jair Jurrjens. Beyond those 4 are Mike Hampton, Jo Jo Reyes, Chuck James, and Jeff Bennett, all of which have either demonstrated a limited amount of talent, or a limited ability to stay off the DL, meaning that the following image will be a familiar sight for Braves fans this year:
Obviously Smoltz, Hudson, and Glavine have plenty left in the tank, but time is catching up with all 3 of them as was evident in Glavine’s latest start against the Nationals when he pulled a hamstring in the 1st inning. Minor injuries, aches, pains, and the effects of a long season are going to take their toll on the Braves pitching staff, and there will probably be very few times this year when the Smoltz/Hudson/Glavine trio is healthy and at the top of their games. The situation is far improved over the 2007 season when the Braves were forced to hand the ball to guys like Mark Redman and Buddy Carlyle, but the pitching staff is not ideally suited to withstand 162 regular season games, as well as a deep run through the play-offs.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many talented arms coming up through the Braves farm system, and the best chance at attaining another ace pitcher may not come until the off-season. Even then, free agent pitchers are going to come with a hefty price tag, which would likely mean that the Braves will be forced to choose between trying to resign Mark Teixeira, or try and land some pitching talent. Hopefully, with the weight of Andruw Jones’ and Mike Hampton’s over-inflated salaries out of the way, there might be a way to reestablish a dominant rotation, while retaining or acquiring the talent necessary to keep the offense going. Until then, this season is likely to be full of many more frustrating 1-run-losses, and thoughts of “what if?”