Wednesday night's game against the New York Mets is a classic reminder that a game and season can change in an instant.
With Tim Hudson and the Atlanta Braves on cruise control with a 6-0 lead in the eighth inning, their season changed in one play.
Eric Young Jr. hit Hudson's pitch toward Freddie Freeman at first base, which Freeman knocked down and flipped to Hudson covering at the first base bag. Young, hustling to beat out the play, stepped on the right ankle of Hudson, and Hudson went to the ground in pain.
One replay showed this was a serious injury, and the Braves confirmed after the game that Hudson fractured the ankle and will undergo surgery.
There's no denying the impact the loss of Hudson (8-7, 3.97) will have on the team.
The career 205-game winner was pitching lights out in recent starts. Hudson was 4-0 with a 3.10 ERA in four starts in July, going seven or more innings in each start.
Stretching back to June, Hudson posted a 2.73 ERA while holding opponents to a .224 average in 10 starts. He was starting to look like the Tim Hudson of old.
His injury will not just be limited to on the field, however. Hudson is widely known around baseball as one of the best competitors, leaders and teammates in the game.
His laid-back, comedic personality undoubtedly relieves stress and pressure during a lengthy 162-game season. That will be sorely missed in the Braves clubhouse the rest of 2013.
Still, this should be considered a blow and not a knockout punch.
While the Braves and fans feel devastated for the injury, they still sit in great shape to make the postseason.
One could argue the Braves sit in the best position of any team in baseball to handle an injury and win the division—something I'm sure fans would be much more comfortable with after last year's debacle in the Wild Card game.
While replacing Hudson to maintain their strong position in the standings will be far from easy, this is what the Braves do.
They develop tons of pitchers in their system to build depth and rely on those young pitchers.
Alex Wood was sent back to Triple-A Gwinnett to stretch out as a starter with the entire rotation intact. Now, he'll start Thursday's game and looks to be a key pitcher moving forward.
The young left-hander has proven he can get out MLB hitters while posting a 2.45 ERA and 10.64 K/9 ratio in 16 games—mostly out of the bullpen.
And then there's Brandon Beachy, who also happened to be pitching on Wednesday night for Triple-A Gwinnett.
Beachy went six innings (86 pitches) while allowing one earned run on two hits with three strikeouts and four walks. He will likely take Hudson's spot in the rotation on Monday on a normal rest schedule.
Beachy was the best starter for the Braves in 2012, as he led the National League with a 2.00 ERA before his season-ending arm injury.
That would be unreasonable to expect, but Beachy has posted a 3.07 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in his career. With some more evidence than Wood, Beachy has also proven capable to get out MLB hitters.
Yet no matter how effective both Beachy and Wood are in the rotation, they can't replace the starting experience of Hudson.
While Hudson has 10 postseason starts under his belt, the rest of the rotation has one combined (Kris Medlen in 2012).
It would be nice to have that veteran going in a playoff game and know you'll get a quality outing. With the young, inexperienced starters, you don't know how they'll react on the big stage.
And that's the reminder that you cannot completely replace a Tim Hudson on your team. He's done too much over his career.
Lucky for the Braves, they have positioned themselves perfectly for a postseason run after the first 100 games and have the luxury of having pitching depth to cope with the loss of Hudson.
Wednesday night was a tough blow for the Braves, but it was just that—a blow and not a knockout punch.
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