The Braves have played a bit more than one-fifth of the season, and they’re a game below .500. That’s where they should be, give or take. They’ve looked like an average team: They’re eighth among 16 National League clubs in hitting, seventh in pitching, ninth in fielding.
Being average over the long haul doesn’t seem such an appetizing proposition, but there’s no guarantee these guys will stay that way. They could get worse, sure. But they could, if they can just hang around for a couple of more months, get a lot better in a hurry.
The Braves entered Monday night’s game 2 ½ games out of first place, which is a major blessing. (Then they mustered five singles and one run — that on a double-play grounder — against Jason Marquis and Huston Street and lost to the Rockies.) Neither the Mets nor the Phillies caught a rolling start, and the Marlins have already nose-dived. There’s no reason to think this pitch-and-putt offense can subsist over the full six months, but what if this offense, say, found itself a big bat around, say, July 31st?
Scenario time: Tim Hudson believes he’ll return from Tommy John surgery in August, and a healthy Hudson would make the Braves’ rotation the league’s best. Think about it: Hudson, Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, Javier Vazquez and Tom Glavine – who threw a simulated game Monday, by the way, and was encouraged afterward – or Kenshin Kawakami or Tommy Hanson or Kris Medlen in the 5-hole.
Said Bobby Cox: “If we can keep in position or get a lead, [Hudson] could be huge down the stretch.”
Said Hudson: “That’s what I’m hoping. That’s what I want to do.”
Carry things a step further: That would make eight starting pitchers in a five-man rotation. That would render two or three superfluous to immediate needs, which would make for an enticing trade portfolio. Would the Braves part with — just picking a name — Vazquez if — picking another — Matt Holliday was available for two months’ rental? (Vazquez seems trade-able because he’s not a top-of-the rotation guy but he’s dependable and signed through 2011.)Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
Said Chipper Jones: “We’re looking at having a really good pitching staff next year. And you have to ask if some of those [pitchers] can be a piece or two you give up to address a need. We’ve got a lot of depth there.”
Yes, the Braves mortgaged the back 40 of the ol’ farm for Mark Teixeira two summers ago, and that availed them nothing. But there’s a difference between trading a 32-year-old starting pitcher and four prized prospects. And there’s also a clear and present need.
At peak capacity, this lineup will hit enough to keep the Braves around .500. (Cox, being the world’s most optimistic man, foresees better things. Why? “Because we haven’t had Mac [Brian McCann] and [Garret] Anderson in there so far.”) But this everyday eight is overly reliant on Chipper Jones, and no self-respecting opponent is apt to pitch to him in a tight game.
Through seven weeks, the Braves have been OK. They’ll have to be better than that over the next four months. One man could be the key to both a stronger rotation and a more robust lineup. Tim Hudson is that man.