Keep up with the latest news, notes and developments with Fungoes, a daily journal for all things baseball that will last all season long.
NL East: Storm cloud in Braves' sunny start
When I sat down with Braves GM John Schuerholz a month ago in his Disney World spring training office, it took him fewer than 60 seconds to mention his projected No. 3 starter as central to Atlanta's fortunes in 2007. "Pitching is always the key issue for me," he said, "and inside that story is the rehabilitation of Mike Hampton. If he can regain his spot in our rotation as a solid three starter behind [John] Smoltz and [Tim] Hudson, everything else will take care of itself."
At the time, the 34-year-old appeared to be recovering well from the Tommy John surgery he underwent two Septembers ago, and while Schuerholz couldn't expect to have at his disposal the Hampton of '99 (when he went 22-4 with a 2.90 ERA for Houston and finished second in the Cy Young voting to Randy Johnson), he knew he wouldn't be saddled with the Hampton of '02 (7-15, 6.15 ERA with Colorado) either. The Braves modestly hoped that Hampton would continue to do what he did in 2003 and '04, when he combined for a 32-20 record with a 3.96 ERA, and would provide a steady, veteran, left-handed bridge to the youngsters in the bottom of the rotation. "We think Mike's going to be fine," Schuerholz told me. "I'm not Nostradamus here, but I think he'll be back near the start of the season and almost at full form."
Schuerholz may be many things -- the architect of 14 straight division titles, a possible future member of the Hall of Fame -- but prophet he is indeed not. A few days after our meeting, Hampton strained an oblique taking batting practice; a month later, he discovered he had a torn tendon in his pitching elbow. The result was that the Braves were left not with the Hampton of '99, or '02, or '03 to '05, but with the Hampton of '06 -- that is, the one unable pitch for them.
The Braves have been forced to replace Hampton with another veteran lefty, Mark Redman -- who had a 5.71 ERA last year in Kansas City, and is so far responsible for Atlanta's only loss, allowing five earned runs to the Mets last Friday. The good news, of course, is that Atlanta's an MLB-best 7-1, thanks largely to the team's other four starters (Smoltz, Hudson, Chuck James, and Kyle Davies), who have allowed only nine earned runs in 43 2/3 innings thus far. That quartet should be enough to keep the team in contention all year. (I have them nipping the Phillies for the NL Wild Card). The bad news is that the Braves now have a question mark starting every fifth day. If Redman continues to scuffle, I'd expect to see Lance Cormier take his place. In all likelihood, however, Schuerholz has some unexpected work to do.
Labels: NL East
posted by SI.com | View comments |
Hampton must have been throwing one hell of a slider to tear the palmaris longus tendon they use in TJ Surgery. That tendon is usually as strong as a suspension bridge cable.
Braves management should know never to sign a pitcher to a long term contract. Hampton ruins their payroll this year and next. The Braves have so many pitching prospects who could do as well as Hampton for so much less money that the Hampton deal confuses me.
The Braves did not sign Hampton to a long term contract. That was done by the Colorado Rockies. I try not to second guess the Braves' GM and if he didn't think the Braves had major-league ready pitchers at the time of the acquisition of Hampton, they probably did not. The debate can continue forever about the Hampton situation. However, when healthy, Mike Hampton is a good, competitive pitcher. It's too bad for Hampton and the Braves that he is injured again. I look forward to him being healthy in 2008 and pitching well for the Braves.
Too bad for Hampton. When he is healthy, he is a good pitcher. As far as salary goes, I'm sure John thought Mike would have a few good seasons and then trade him before the Braves had to start paying his salary.
Hampton was "signed for 4 years at the time being he was traded. As for his salary the Braves weren't as cash-strapped at the time. As for the longus tendon.......he tore another tendon in his arm other that the one that was just replaced.
Yes, Hampton's gone. Still... I think most of the prognosticators have it wrong.
THE BRAVES HAVE TO BE CONSIDERED THE FAVORITES TO WIN THE EAST, WITH OR WITHOUT HAMPTON.
The Braves hopes this year hinged on fixing the bullpen, and adding another top-of-the-rotation type of starter into the mix (which they believed would be in the person of Mike Hampton). Well, they most definitely fixed the bullpen, and they did in fact get a top tier starter back this year... Tim Hudson.
Hudson had a career worst year last year (4.86 ERA), but certainly appears to have regained his Oakland form. And that is an even greater lift than anything Hampton could have been counted on to provide in his first year back from Tommy John surgery.
With one of the best young lefties in the game (Chuck James) to follow what is likely the best pair of aces in the league... the top of the Braves rotation 1-3 is as good as any in baseball. And Davies and Cormier show a great deal of promise at the bottom of their rotation.
Add to that one of the best bullpens in baseball, and the Braves pitching is significantly better than that of their division rivals.
Also, their offense is going to be much better than people realize. The core of the Braves lineup (2-6) is the same one that allowed the Braves to finish 2nd in the NL in runs scored and Batting average last year.
The core of this offense is virtually identical in talent and production to the core (2-6) of the more lauded Mets lineup (check the stats if you doubt it).
The Mets have an offensive edge in Jose Reyes, but he won't be enough to compensate for the gap that exists between these two teams in the pitching department.
As for the Phillies, despite Jimmy Rollins confident declarations... they don't have as much offense as NY to counterbalance the lack of pitching depth. As a result, they won't be in it come late September.
I'm betting on pitching. And even without Hampton, the Braves have significantly more of it than the Mets or Phils.
I will always regret that the Braves did not really try to bring back Glavine. It made perfect sense, even if Hampton stayed healthy.
With Chipper at the very end of his prime production, Andruw probably gone after the year, and Smoltz still putting out ace-stuff at 39 the Braves have some young-ins, but they need to put it together now. While they have potential, Davies and Cormier are not Glavine. He would have drawn bigger crowds as a long time fan favorite that is getting his 300th this year.
I am pretty disappointed I am not watching Glavine in a Braves uni this year, especially now that Hampton is out again.
I find it terribly odd that a poster would say that the Phillies don't have as much pitching depth as the Mets or the Braves. The Phillies appear to have an outstanding starting rotation (despite Brett Myers shaky start to the season). I would whoe heartedly agree that the Braves and Mets have outstanding bullpens, and the Phillies are in trouble the final three innings of every game ... but if the Phils starters can shut down teams, and the Phils hitters start hitting there will be big enough leads in the late innings that the bullpen will not have to be spectacular.
The Phils offense is solid from top to bottom. Utley and Howard have had very slow starts to the season, but when those two gus click there won't be a more fearsome lineup in the National League.
Ultimately, the Mets will win the Division,,, but with the Phillies penchant for flawless August and September baseaball ... they will once again be in the hunt for the wild card.
That poster was probably referring to the Phillies atrocious bullpen when he mentioned their lack of pitching. After watching the Braves blow 29 saves (not to mention their streak of divison titles) last year, I am absolutely convinced that a bad bullpen can ruin an otherwise good team. There is no reasonable argument that can be be made that the Phillies bullpen is anything but bad. They have the worst bullpen in the NL east and the Marlins don't even have a closer. Their best bet would be to move one of their starters (Brett Myers?) to the bullpen once the rotation gets healthy. All the fans in Philadelphia should be prepared for another disappointing third or fourth place season.
Okay, admittedly I am a partisan, a diehard Mets fan. Diehard. But two things regarding the Mets' pitching: Petersen and Pedro. Rick Petersen is a genius and I have tremendous confidence in his ability to mold the "kids" Maine, Perez and Pelfry into professionals, maybe even scary ones. Admittedly, Pelfry is a rank unknown, Perez is still a mystery, but that John Maine is turning into something special. And, really, we have 1.56 terrific pitching coaches because we got Tommy G. But it appears the world, or at least the NL East, have played the sucker to the ever-subtle Willie Randolph. Pedro's not dead, he's just asleep. While predictions ain't easy after major arm reconstructive surgery, if there is any chance -- any chance -- that Pedro can pitch effectively this year, that guy will figure out a way. Put it together with the bullpen (and Mota is merely asleep, too, folks) and I like what we got. I certainly don't think the Braves have all that much more as far as pitching goes. And their offense -- please.
AL East blog (Monday)
NL West blog (Monday)
AL Central blog (Tuesday)
NL Central blog (Wednesday)
AL West blog (Thursday)
NL East blog (Thursday)
Wild Card (Friday)