Braves Searching for Optimism, Goals Amidst More Bad News

James HulkaAnalyst IJuly 30, 2008

In between home plate umpire Jim Joyce's animated strike calls, I started to wonder how much worse things could get for Atlanta. The lineup has lost the three best hitters in the last week due to a collision, a trade, and a pulled hamstring.

Meanwhile, the pitching staff hasn't resembled one at all. Unless your name is Campillo, Jurrjens, or Soriano you've probably been hit around pretty good at least once since the All-Star Break.

As the Braves' bullpen was letting another close game become a blowout—things did get worse. That dreaded phrase, "Ulnar Collateral Ligament tear", now applies to Braves' ace, Tim Hudson.

David O'Brien reports out of Atlanta that two doctors have advised him to have Tommy John surgery. Dr. James Andrews recommended Hudson to wait at least a week before making that decision.

Hudson was speaking to the media after the Braves' loss to the Cardinals Wednesday night, saying that he plans to tough it out for the remainder of the season if necessary. As noted, Peter Moylan tried the same approach back in April, before deciding to have the surgery.

So where does this leave the 2008 Braves?

They could play spoilers as they have six games left with the Phillies (2-10), six with the Marlins (7-5), and nine against the Mets (7-2). Those are just the division foes that the Braves still have series left with.

Atlanta also has to play at St. Louis and at Arizona, while facing the Brewers and Cubs in sets at Turner Field. The only NL contender the Braves are done with for the season is the Dodgers.

For the rest of the season, everyone else on the Braves' major league roster will have to focus on their personal goals—the team is surely out of any play-off consideration after dropping to a season-worst nine games under .500.

Chipper Jones mentioned one of his remaining personal goals in a video clip late in tonight's game—a batting title.

Even though he is on the DL, he still leads the majors with a .369 average. He won't be chasing Ted Williams and .400, but adding one more big trophy to his mantle would only enhance his Hall of Fame qualifications.

One other player that could earn a major award this year took the hard-luck loss tonight. Jair Jurrjens leads all Major League rookies in wins and ERA. He pitched a solid seven innings tonight, and two of the three runs he gave up came on hits where he jammed the Cardinal hitter but the ball fell in the right place.

If the Braves can provide him with some run support after Chipper and McCann return to the lineup, they might be able to get Jurrjens to 15 wins and secure him the award for NL Rookie of the Year.

Brian McCann still has a shot to achieve the magic line for almost any offensive player—.300-30-100. His current line of .302-20-63 means that, if healthy upon his return, he could run away with another Silver Slugger as the game's best offensive catcher.

For many of the remainder of the Braves' players, they must realize they are playing for their jobs as major leaguers. As of right now, the only members of the Braves' bullpen who management would definitely want back next year are Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez.

Will Ohman's likely to be traded, and Peter Moylan won't return until probably May 2009. Buddy Carlyle, Royce Ring, Jeff Bennett, Manny Acosta, and Blaine Boyer aren't guaranteed anything regarding a rotation or bullpen role next year based on inconsistent, if not poor, performance in 2008.

For the starters it will be an open audition. If Hudson has the ligament replacement surgery he would be out until next August, leaving Jair Jurrjens and Jorge Campillo as the only starters the Braves could rely on going into spring training in February.

Charlie Morton, Jo-Jo Reyes, Chuck James, Mike Hampton, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz will have to prove they're healthy and effective if they're going to be in the majors—or even in baseball at all next year.

For a few others like Kelly Johnson, Mark Kotsay, and Jeff Francoeur, it is audition time regarding the Braves' plans for the future—or will they be more valuable to the Braves if traded away for other players. Later this season, Brandon Jones and Brent Lillibridge will probably join this list.

The Braves can do some shopping this offseason, either through trades or by signing a big ticket free agent—as Jeff Schultz mentioned today, and I mentioned in a previous article. But for the rest of the 2008 season, Braves fans will have to be rooting for the little things.

It's going to be a painful last 50 games at Turner Field.