The excitement surrounding the new season officially began when the first pitches were thrown out on Monday. The Atlanta Braves still have unanswered questions about their starting rotation, which should be settled in the next few weeks.
Using the projected rotation of Alex Wood, Julio Teheran, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy, in no particular order, the Braves have several young pitchers with very few years of experience between them. Lack of experience can be deadly in October. Here's how the pitchers can help propel their team into the playoffs.
For starters, Evan Gattis didn’t play catcher for the majority of the games last season. These pitchers need to become comfortable with his style of play during spring training. Once the season begins, the focus needs to shift from Gattis to how these pitchers carry themselves in a game. Consistency is key.
The first part of the regular season could be rocky for the Braves. Beachy is still a big question mark. If he is able to make a full recovery from Tommy John surgery and fall back into his groove in the beginning of the season, then that’s the best-case scenario.
Before his injury in 2012, Beachy held a 2.00 ERA but could only complete 13 games before needing surgery. He was able to start five games last season, holding a less impressive 4.50 ERA. That isn’t surprising or unexpected; he needed to shake off the cobwebs and play it safe so he didn’t irritate his shoulder or injure himself again. However, for the Braves to maximize their playoff chances, Beachy must prove he hasn’t lost his game.
Alex Wood is another uncertainty this season. He’s a young star with potential. He started 11 games for the Braves last season, while also spending 20 games as a relief pitcher. He may have a shaky start to the season if he lands a spot on the starting rotation but will hopefully find his footing as a valuable asset to the team as the season moves forward.
The Braves need a pitcher that will stand as a leader. When Tim Hudson left for San Francisco during the offseason, the move left Atlanta without a real seasoned veteran in the rotation. This position could belong to any of the remaining three pitchers listed above—Teheran, Medlen or Minor. One of these players needs to step up and feel confident leading the team.
Keep in mind that these young pitchers are very talented. Setting records for the ball club at the start of their careers shows that they have potential and ability. Braves reporter Kevin McAlpin tweeted an important stat at the end of last season:
Julio Teheran finished the season with 170 strikeouts...the most by a #Braves rookie since 1900 (Beachy had 169 in 2011).— Kevin McAlpin (@KevinMcAlpin) September 29, 2013
Medlen always looks like he is having fun on the mound. He would be able to calm the team down in the high pressure October days. With a 3.11 ERA in 2013, he would be a solid pitcher that players should feel comfortable standing behind.
Minor would also be a candidate for this role, considering he has been forced to teach himself to calm down. Not so long ago, as Braves fans may remember, Minor used to sail through a few innings without problems, then, after one mistake, Minor would fall apart. He’s matured since those frustrating days and deals with tough jams with a calm and collected demeanor.
Minor has played in more games each season since his 2010 debut and lowered his ERA each season. He currently is sitting with a 3.21 ERA, but a new season has the possibility of even lower numbers. He has surprised us before; it could happen again.
Fast forward the video below to 0:34. These are highlights of Minor's playoff performance against the Dodgers last season. He was reliable in his first playoff start; there's reason to believe that he'll be successful in the future, as well.
Not only is the pitching staff young and fairly inexperienced, but so are the majority of the Braves team. In order to keep the team calm during the playoffs, the pitchers need to be able to bring the team into October with momentum.
Momentum is a funny thing. It can turn games around in the blink of an eye and, depending which side your team is on, make you jump off your couch or crumble to the floor. This isn’t to say that the pitchers are the only ones responsible for creating a winning record as the postseason nears. However, if their pitching is consistent and reliable, the bats will hopefully come through on their side.
Young teams need momentum much more than veteran teams. Veterans have seen both sides and know, for the most part, what works and how to stay calm in the middle of the biggest games of their careers. Younger players haven’t gotten the chance to build this wisdom yet. Without many veterans on the Braves squad, they need to learn this on their own and have the momentum push them forward, while they’re gaining the experience.
The four games that the Braves played in October last year will help this team. The ones who weren’t around for 2012 now know the burning feeling of defeat in the first round of the playoffs, as far too many Braves and fans have had to endure for years. They also know the pressure, atmosphere and what to expect. The pitchers that weren’t on last year’s roster will rely on the few that were.
There hasn't been an official word from the clubhouse regarding the pitching rotation or opening day pitcher, but that hasn't stopped reporters from making speculations.
If #Braves keep current rotation order all spring & give everyone extra rest on only off day, Medlen would be in line to pitch Opening Day.— David O'Brien (@ajcbraves) February 25, 2014
Once the starting rotation is solidified in the next few weeks, the process can begin, keeping in mind that consistency and momentum are key. The lack of experience will not ruin Atlanta's playoff chances if these pieces all fall together.