Turbulent Times for Atlanta’s “Every Fifth Day” Rotation

Spring Training hasn’t been good to the Braves. Doctors determined that both Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy would need to undergo their second Tommy John surgeries. While acting quickly to bring Ervin Santana into the fold will soften the blow considerably, these injuries have exposed a severe lack of depth in the team’s rotation. Those depth issues did not become a problem last year, as Atlanta led the NL in games started by the first five starters to take the hill for them in the 2013 season.

Most Starts By First Five Starters, 2013

Team

Starts By First Five Starters

Atlanta Braves

140

Cincinnati Reds

138

Washington Nationals

137

San Francisco Giants

137

Arizona Diamondbacks

133

This doesn’t necessarily mean the rotation was entirely healthy last season, with Beachy on the shelf through July as he recovered from his first TJ and Tim Hudson’s gruesome ankle injury ending his season prematurely. However, the team’s dearth of starters beyond their opening day rotation did not harm their playoff hopes, as Medlen, Hudson, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, and Paul Maholm combined to make 140 starts, with rookie Alex Wood making a successful midseason transition to the rotation to cover half of the remaining 22 turns.

In 2014, however, their alternate options for the rotation are already being tested with Opening Day only a week away. Hudson and Maholm both headed west in free agency, leaving Beachy and Wood to take their places in what appeared to remain a strong and fairly balanced rotation. While the Santana signing replaces the innings they hoped to receive from Medlen, albeit not with the same run prevention attached, Beachy’s injury is a huge blow to the Braves’ chances in a competitive NL East race. With Minor dealing with a bout of shoulder soreness and Gavin Floyd still recovering from a TJ procedure of his own, the Braves’ early-April rotation will be rounded out by Wood and David Hale. After making a short but effective cameo in the rotation in September of last year, Hale prevailed in a thoroughly uninspiring spring competition for early-season innings. Recent pickup Aaron Harang is likely to see at least a turn or two early in the season, while a host of other mediocre options, including Gus Schlosser and Aaron Northcraft, could also be called on to make starts before Floyd and Minor return.

These injuries spell trouble for a Braves club that led MLB in run prevention last season, allowing their opposition to cross home plate only 548 times. The Nationals should be hungry after a disappointing 2013, and will be hot on the Braves’ trail. Atlanta will need to improve on an already solid run-scoring total (4th in the NL last season), while somehow evading a sizable decrease in their run prevention despite entering the season with a largely patchwork rotation. Without any prospects in the immediate pipeline seeming ready to succeed in the rotation in 2014, the Braves will be counting on durability from the remaining members of the starting staff, as well as healthy returns from Minor and Floyd, if they can even hope to approach their 2013 campaign’s 96-win total.

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