With Brandon Beachy, Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson going strong two months into the season, the Braves looked like they would have a great rotation down the stretch.
However, Beachy got hurt. So the Braves replaced him with Ben Sheets, who has pitched 12 shutout innings in two starts with the Braves. Problem solved.
Well, not exactly.
Mike Minor and Randall Delgado filled out the bottom of the rotation when Beachy still pitched, since Jair Jurrjens was in the minors (after his terrible start to the season). Minor was struggling, although he has put together some nice starts recently. The young Delgado never found his kick, and you could argue that he and Minor were first-half liabilities.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez decided to keep Minor and Jurrjens (who was called up from Triple-A Gwinnett) in his rotation. Minor did a great job in his first start of the second half, but Jurrjens didn't.
Jurrjens started against two below-average offenses (the Giants and the Nationals) to start the second half, and both teams lit him up. He consistently left the ball over the plate, and teams continued to get hits off of him. Jurrjens allowed a combined total of 17 hits in just 5.2 innings pitched, and he also allowed 14 total earned runs.
You could argue that Brian McCann deserves some of the blame, since he did call both games. I didn't like a lot of the pitches McCann called, especially since every hitter in both lineups was aggressive. Every Nationals starter, including Ross Detwiler, got a hit during the game.
Against the Nationals, Jurrjens watched his record sink to 3-4 and his ERA skyrocket to 7.04. Atlanta was looking to trim the NL East gap, which is something they needed to do. However, Jurrjens made a lot of first-pitch mistakes, and he left a few pitches too far over the plate.
Nationals starter Ross Detwiler had the same mentality as Jurrjens. However, Detwiler effectively hit the corners, jammed hitters and forced weak contact. Jurrjens put the ball where hitters could easily get the barrel on the ball, and that's why he was dominated.
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman even homered twice against him, both on pitches that hung for too long and caught too much of the plate.
Atlanta can't go on with Jurrjens in their rotation. They have a decent farm system, and they could stockpile some prospects and trade for a starting pitcher. Luckily for the Braves, there are a lot of starting pitchers on the trade market.
Ryan Dempster is the main prize on the trade market, and, according to Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports, the Braves are the front-runners for Dempster. The Cubs ace leads the league with a 2.11 ERA, and he is very consistent. With Hudson, Hanson, Sheets and Dempster in their playoff rotation, the Braves would be very hard to beat.
Even if Atlanta can't land Dempster, who will come at a high price, there are other pitchers they could trade for. Zack Greinke, Matt Garza, Cole Hamels and James Shields will also be available, and the Braves will probably offer some prospects to try to land one of those five guys.
Shields and Garza haven't put up great numbers this year, but they could both help Atlanta down the stretch. Greinke is great at striking hitters out, and he knows how to win games. The former Cy Young winner has a 1.25 WHIP, and having another strikeout specialist would help.
Atlanta probably doesn't need another starter, but their championship chances would be greatly increased with Dempster or another starter. Braves fans are fed up with Jurrjens, who has consistently thrown the ball right in the "happy zone" and allowed a ton of runs. If the Braves keep Jurrjens in their rotation, they'll have to continue to watch opponents smack the ball around the park.
And, in a playoff race, that's never a good thing.