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John Smoltz: Astros Rotation with Zack Greinke 'Way Better' Than Braves' in 90s

Megan ArmstrongAnalyst IAugust 3, 2019

Houston Astros pitcher Zack Greinke speaks to the media during a press conference before a baseball game between the Houston Astros and the Seattle Mariners, Friday, Aug. 2, 2019, in Houston. Greinke was acquired via a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 31. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

The Houston Astros' acquisition of Zack Greinke at the MLB trade deadline Wednesday made waves all the way back to the 1990s. 

MLB.com's Brian McTaggart relayed that Hall of Fame Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz called Astros owner Jim Crane Friday to compliment him on Houston's rotation headlined by Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Greinke.

"Smoltz said, 'Man, you did a really great job of putting that together,'" Crane said of the conversation. "I said, 'Yeah, it looks like Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux.' He said, 'No, no, you guys are way better than we ever were.'" 

High praise. 

Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux dominated as Braves starters together from 1993 to 1999, including a World Series title in 1995, before Smoltz missed the 2000 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. 

In 2014, Bleacher Report's Zachary D. Rymer put the dominance of Atlanta's Big Three into historical context:

"With a minimum of 700 innings, you're looking at three of only six pitchers between '93 and '99 to post ERAs under 3.25. They were also three of only eight pitchers with an ERA+ (ERA adjusted for parks and leagues) of at least 130. Lastly, they were three of only 15 to compile at least 25.0 WAR.

So depending on which stat you favor, the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz trio represented between one-fifth and half of MLB's elite starting pitchers in a seven-year span. ... And should we also mention that they took home five of the seven National League Cy Youngs in that span? Yeah, let's mention that, too."

With those statistics in mind, it's hard to consider Houston's threesome superseding them before they've spent a week together on the same team. However, Cole, Greinke and Verlander make a compelling case individually for what they can accomplish together. 

Verlander is the longest-tenured Astro of the three, arriving to Houston in 2017 in a trade from the Detroit Tigers that helped propel the Astros to their first-ever World Series title. This season, the 36-year-old leads MLB in wins (14) as well as WHIP (0.811) and ranks fifth with a 2.73 ERA. 

Cole was traded to Houston from the Pittsburgh Pirates in Jan. 2018 and has since posted a 28-10 record, 2.87 ERA and 1.017 WHIP. This season, the 28-year-old leads MLB with 216 strikeouts. 

And now, Greinke. The 35-year-old 2009 Cy Young Award winner joined the Astros at the proverbial midnight of Wednesday's trade deadline from the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he had registered a 10-4 record, 2.90 ERA and 0.945 WHIP through 23 starts.

The Astros were willing to take on $53 million of Greinke's remaining contract in order to shore up their lone weakness. As a result, Houston became World Series favorites.

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Astros outfielder George Springer has a feeling surrounding the addition of Greinke that "is very similar to the one I had when we got Justin Verlander," according to the Houston Chronicle's Chandler Rome

Greinke's first stop toward proving Springer's feeling correct and helping Houston to its second championship in three years will be Tuesday when he is scheduled to make his first start.