Just got finished of two straight weeks of studying for my SAT and AP Test so now I can get back to the important things, The Braves. Entering this weekend's series with the Pirates, Bobby Cox and the Braves sit atop the NL East and as I'll do from time to time, I am going to take a look at the pitching.
The Braves have finished their first 34 games with a 3.97 team ERA, good for eighth in the league. Many of you are saying right now that can't be right, but remember that Mark Redman is responsible for about two full runs on that ERA. The starting staff still looks a little shaky but to see Anthony Lerew pitch so well eases a bit of the pain. If he can put together another solid outing against Pittsburgh, I doubt we will ever see Mark Redman in a Braves uniform again. We are really starting to see some of McDowell's projects paying off with Tyler Yates, Chad Paronto, and now scrapping Lerew's splitter for a sinker in spring training. Smoltz had a bit of a slow start but has come on of late and was anyone really worried? Hudson just keeps rolling. We got a scare last night when he was hit in the pitching arm and fell to the ground, but after testing it out he finished the inning and again got more grounders than flyballs. Chuck James and Kyle Davies are my biggest worries as of now. Davies has looked good for like 8 straight innings over his last two starts and we'll see what he is like tonight. I can't help but think that something just clicked because all those walks and fastballs that were right down Broadway seemed to have vanished. James on the other hand just seems like he is overthrowing on every pitch. His career numbers say it will go away but he doesn't seem content working in the 88-90 mph range like he was last year.
Bob Wickman went down and the bullpen got better? Yes it did and this is going to be a big question once he gets back. Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez are better pitchers plain and simple, and the margin isn't that small either. Does Bobby say I want to win more games or will he stick with the veteran they re-signed to close out games and sacrifice a couple. Another option is having one of the better closer-by-committee situations in the history of the game so that Bobby can play the match-ups and make sure no one is overused. Steve Colyer was DFA to make room for Anthony Lerew and since Kevin Barry hasn't seen action so far, I think it is fair to say he isn't in the long term plans, which leaves a pen spot open for Wickman, who is scheduled to rejoin the team this Tuesday. Peter Moylan is really making the best of his time up so far and probably will be with the team from here on out, but I can't help but get the feeling that Villareal won't be in a Braves uniform by the trading deadline. Down in the minors, Blaine Boyer made his debut for Richmond, pitching two scoreless innings but walking two. Also, Joey Devine just keeps rolling along and now owns a 1.65 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 16.1 innings for Mississippi. I have received a couple emails about Tanyon Sturtze, who resumed throwing from a mound following off-season surgery. Sturtze is going to be a non-factor this season so stop going all berserk that the Braves are going to have to send someone down for him. We signed him for insurance and that was before Schuerholz had acquired Soriano or Gonzalez, he won't see Atlanta this season.
The Braves have Schuerholz at the helm and a hole in the starting rotation; that is a recipe for trade rumors so here we go. The Blue Jays are drawing a lot of attention right about now because of the loss they suffered with BJ Ryan having Tommy John Surgery. Rumor has it that they will either try and fill in the closer's spot or possibly go the way of a fire sale. Among a couple other teams, Braves scouts have been spotted at recent Jays games, which has led to some speculation that Schuerholz might be targeting AJ Burnett, who could use a trade out of the AL East, or I think he could be shopping Bob Wickman as a replacement. You can't ignore the fact that without Wickman we take an upgrade in the closer's role and I wouldn't be surprised if JS tried to move Wickman and his contract during the season (Adam Lind would fit nicely in the Atlanta lineup) and make room for Boyer, Startup, or Devine.