A cold truth revealed: The Braves’ pitching isn’t good enough

Tommy Hanson after being pulled in the fourth inning Monday. (AP photo by David Goldman)

Tommy Hanson after being pulled in the fourth inning Monday. (AP photo by David Goldman)

Even as we celebrated the Braves’ embrace of the Good At-Bat and the Sustained Rally, an ominous note went unheard. They were scoring so many runs and winning so many games that we — well, some of us — didn’t grasp that the only way they were winning so many games was by scoring so many runs. But the offense has begun to wane, as offenses will, and we’re forced to confront a rather stark reality:

The team that believed it had great starting pitching doesn’t have very good starting pitching.

The Braves awoke on Memorial Day, the first checkpoint of the baseball season, with the 13th-best ERA for starting pitchers in the 16-team National League. On cue, Tommy Hanson went out and threw … well, you couldn’t call it a game, him being gone after recording 10 outs (while yielding 12 baserunners). He left with his team down 5-0, and soon it would be 6-nil and another game was gone, the eighth in a row for these suddenly buffaloed Bravos.

Nine days ago the Braves led the NL East by 1 1/2 games. Today they’re tied for last, having been passed by three clubs and caught by Philadelphia. We can cling to the crutch of injury/illness — Chipper Jones on the disabled list for the ninth time since 2006; Freddie Freeman not being able to see straight, Brian McCann getting sick — but the Phillies and Nationals have been missing guys, too. (And the Cardinals won here Monday without benefit of Lance Berkman and David Freese.)

Difference is, the Phillies and Nationals have outpitched the Braves. The Mets, who have the fourth-lowest ERA in the five-team division for starting pitchers, have posted 29 quality starts. (At least six innings worked with three or fewer earned runs.) The Braves have managed 20, which puts them next-to-last among NL teams.

Mike Minor hasn’t won since April 19, Randall Delgado since April 17. Jair Jurrjens was demoted to Gwinnett on April 24, and here’s where his failure shows. At his best, he’s not just a starter but a top-of-the-rotation guy. Today the Braves’ No. 1 starter is Tim Hudson, who’ll turn 37 in July and who has had two major surgeries since 2008, and No. 2 is Brandon Beachy, an undrafted free agent. Put simply, there’s not the across-the-board quality you’ll find in Philadelphia’s rotation or even Washington’s.

“Starting pitching sets the tone,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said Monday, and the tone the Braves have set has been as mellifluous as a kazoo. The Braves played 36 innings over the long holiday weekend; they led after three of the 36.

Hanson needed 19 pitches Sunday to muster an out, and by then the Cardinals had loaded the bases. He would wriggle free then, and again in the second inning. In the third he yielded four runs despite a gift from Carlos Beltran, who broke for home when no squeeze was forthcoming. Hanson was done four batters into the fourth, having been touched for Rafael Furcal’s homer and then walked the next two.

Hanson: “A lot of our loss today was about me not being competitive and giving us a chance to win.”

Someone asked Gonzalez if he felt this rotation, as constituted, has what it takes to sustain a first-rate team. “In the long run, I think it will,” he said.

But what’s he going to say? “Anybody got Roy Oswalt’s cell number”? These non-quality starts didn’t just commence when Chipper got hurt and Freeeman’s vision got fuzzy; they were happening all along. But the Braves were hitting then. They’re not now. And they’re not apt to hit much when they play within the NL East, where everybody else can really pitch. (Chipper himself was sounding that note before Opening Day.)

The Braves have played 14 games against divisional brethren; they’ve won four. They’ve done great work against other good clubs — sweeping the Cardinals in St. Louis, taking a road series from both the Dodgers and the Rays — but they’ve been overmatched by the East. They’ve scored way more runs than any team in the division. They just haven’t pitched well enough. That has to change.

Said Brian McCann: “We need that big outing, that big knock.”

And that’s the way it has to begin, yes. But a rotation works only if it, duh, rotates. Are there enough quality starts in Hudson, Beachy, Hanson, Minor and Delgado — a quintet that, with Jurrjens’ four starts added in, has generated only 20 of those in 50 games — to drive a playoff run? Probably not. Someone else will be needed. That someone could be a rejuvenated Jurrjens, or the rookie Julio Teheran, or even the out-of-work Oswalt.

Hitting’s nice. A good bullpen is a must. But we Atlantans know better than anyone that the 162-game season is a ultimately a test of starting pitching. Through 50 games, the Braves haven’t even achieved a gentleman’s “C.” Said Hanson, trying to accentuate the positive: “We’re still above .500.”

Yes. By two games. After being 26-16 on May 20. If this rotation doesn’t stabilize, look out below.

By Mark Bradley

262 comments Add your comment

Fazemike

May 28th, 2012
6:00 pm

old devil

May 28th, 2012
6:03 pm

J Clay

May 28th, 2012
6:06 pm

Saw this coming…remember this is same team that collapsed last year and Venters has come back to earth. Minor is toast. Heyward is another Frenchy. Chipper is still Chipper (good for about half the games)…and Jurjenns hasn’t been good in almost a year…

MR

May 28th, 2012
6:09 pm

At least this season’s collapse has a slightly better excuse than last season’s hurricane excuse. Now firing Fredi and Frank doesn’t seem like such a poor idea, aye? For a team that likes to hold hands and sing kumbaya they sure don’t like to pick each other up when the going gets rough. Even if you could purchase heart and grit for the Braves Liberty Media would be to cheap to make the buy.

Dawgdad (The Original)

May 28th, 2012
6:09 pm

MB

You were an early supporter when most of us picked them to finish fourth in the division. The rest of the teams sought help to get better, while our GM said “he liked our team even though they were revealed in Sep 11. The won more than their share of late close games in Jul, Aug 11, but fate caught up with this weak team.

However, they are never as bad as they seem when they are losing and never as good as they seem when they are winning. So, they will survive this, their starters are not as bad as they are currently performing.

REAGAN2012

May 28th, 2012
6:10 pm

I THINK ITS TIME WE FIRED FREDDII WE NEED TO GET GOSAMER BACK PLAYING FIRST HES A BIG MEAN MONSTER AT TH EPLATE I HOPE HIS EYES ARENT BROKEN FOR GOOD

Supes

May 28th, 2012
6:12 pm

Mark, how long before you write the piece that surely you think comes if the Braves get swept by the Cards (equaling a 10 game losing streak)…the one where SOMEONE in leadership MUST BE held accountable, or are the AJC (you and Shultzie) going to bury your head like everyone else in this town’s media and give Fredi and Wren a “pass”….

Darryl Blackberry

May 28th, 2012
6:17 pm

So sick and tired of hearing the same old post-game rubbish from Atlanta pitchers. How can a pitcher honestly sit there and say, “I just wasn’t competitive” with regards to throwing the ball, fielding, pitch selection, or location in the strike zone? I know being “non-competitive” is just a buzzword, but c’mon. It’s the baseball equivalent of “Where are my manners?” or “I don’t know what I was thinking!”

Mark Bradley

May 28th, 2012
6:20 pm

I will give Wren and Fredi a pass if it comes to ten games. It’s the injuries duh!!!!!! My head’s been buried in la land for a while. We don’t sing Kum Buy Yah here in the Atl we sing LUCIE IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS:) ROFL…..

Najeh Davenpoop

May 28th, 2012
6:20 pm

Roy Oswalt is sitting at home chillin’ and is probably better than every current Braves starter other than Beachy.

wayn-o

May 28th, 2012
6:21 pm

Way to motivate and lead this team Fredi. Attitude reflects leadership.

Sonny Clusters

May 28th, 2012
6:23 pm

After the EPIC Collapse, as the Braves headed for Spring Training, the first order of business for Fredi Gonzalez was to host a golf game for his coaches and staff. We was thinking the first order would be baseball since they completely collapsed in September. We was noticing that the Braves are making mistakes in the field like Heyward missing the cutoff man today and we was thinking this team needs some intense baseball instruction and some intense supervision to make sure they run out ground balls and make an effort in the field and play smart baseball. This team has a culture. It is okay to miss a game with a boo-boo. It has worked for #10 for years and now everybody on the team except maybe Uggla will sit out with s chigger bite or a paper cut. When we was playing ball we wanted on the field, not off it.

Fan of the Game

May 28th, 2012
6:24 pm

Bottom line is that Hanson hasn’t gotten any better over the years because of his health. Jair needs to get back to his old form but he has trouble staying healthy. Should we count on these guys. Minor is like a young Glavine. He has to locate well and he hasn’t. Pitching is a problem but you pitch better when you feel like you can get some runs. This lineup can’t score. Too many not everyday players.

Sonny Clusters

May 28th, 2012
6:27 pm

We was going to the game today but when we woke up we had some flu-like symptoms and a distinct soreness in our groin and our vision was blurred. We was going to wear our glasses but we was annoyed by the fact we could see the frames when we put ‘em on so we decided to just sit this game out rather than be annoyed. We was watching on tv, though, and we heard Fredi say after the game that his team is “behind the 8-ball right now”. With 8 straight losses he’s right and tomorrow they are going to be behind the 9-ball.

T-Bone

May 28th, 2012
6:27 pm

What’s this nonsense about firing Fredi and/or Frank!!? They aren’t the ones pitching (or giving us a lack thereof). We need to go out and sign Roy Oswalt, and do it now while he can be had at the current price.

Jim from Roswell

May 28th, 2012
6:29 pm

Until Liberty Mutual sells this team to someone that wants to make the investment necessary to win consistently this team will be average at best. I’ve gone to my last game at Turner Field until we have an owner that cares. In fact I’m done watching this team. It’s just too painful to watch.

steve brown

May 28th, 2012
6:30 pm

When you have a budget and you pay the biggest chunk of that budget to a part time superstar you wind up weaker throughout the roster. This has been going on for seven years and it has held the club back. Who’s fault is it, I say the owners, management, media and the fans. They have allowed this charade to go on and on and the result is a team trying to compete with one hand held behind its back. That hand is Chipper’s and it has all the money clutched in its fist.

Sonny Clusters

May 28th, 2012
6:31 pm

Forrest Gump’s buddy had an answer for everything . . . shrimp. Fredi Gonzalez reminds us a lot of that when he answers questions and he might as well say “shrimp” too because his cliches and platitudes make him sound dumber than a deer that could be outsmarted by a Buck Commander.

No Clue

May 28th, 2012
6:31 pm

Have we waited too late again? People been screaming to fire the nimrod useless manager, but nothing has been done. The players must have about as much respect for him as the fans do. NONE. Our pitching is beyond stinky, and can’t say much for the offense either. From the owners down to the bat boys its all excuses. Somebody needs to throw a hell of a fit, demand better, and sit those boys down that need to think about it. No spark, no determination, just excuses as why today was the same as yesterday, and the day before, and the day before………

No Sund In The Skye

May 28th, 2012
6:32 pm

The offense is bad too. 2 runs today ?

Roy Oswalt

May 28th, 2012
6:33 pm

This is real interesting…

MollyCat

May 28th, 2012
6:33 pm

I was sick of this team when they wanted to trade Prado. Good luck Braves Fans. This going to be a very tough year. Adios, Braves. I will watch when the manager actually cares.

Bob Uecker

May 28th, 2012
6:34 pm

Duh…master of the obvious. Stick to basketball. That is the only sport rednecks from KY know.

Sonny Clusters

May 28th, 2012
6:36 pm

Somebody we know went to the game last night and spent over $!00 for tickets and parking and a deer dog. He was mad as all get out at the way the Braves did not compete. That comes from a culture of accepting a little division sign as a “pennant” and acting like that makes them a champion. In 2010, it got so bad they put up a little “pennant’ for the wild card. Well, we know what happened in 2011 and that was an EPIC Collapse. Fredi said he was putting that behind him and we hope he was able to do that but we still remember it and we don’t like it a bit and it looks an awful lot like the Braves are right back where they were last September except Lowe is gone and tearing up the American League. He sure tore us up enough last season.

Fazemike

May 28th, 2012
6:37 pm

My first ever first and I can’t even get a Kudos? Geesh!

Sonny Clusters

May 28th, 2012
6:39 pm

No kudos on Memorial Day. He’s eating a watermelon.

Billy

May 28th, 2012
6:39 pm

Fire Frank Wren for doing nothing last winter to help this team..Fire Roger McDowell the do nothing pitching coach best known for his nasty mouth. Fredi ? This team sucks!

Stanfield Sam

May 28th, 2012
6:40 pm

McCann’s passed ball & Hinske’s misplay at 1B pizzed Hanson off. I don’t blame him. These guys are automatic outs then compound the pitching problem with sheedy defense.

Mark Bradley

May 28th, 2012
6:43 pm

Kudos, Fazemike.

OldTimer

May 28th, 2012
6:44 pm

You’d have to be a fool to pay money to watch this team.

Easy Breezey

May 28th, 2012
6:45 pm

local radio sports guy called this one……….Braves WILL finish 4th……Heyward (overrated), no pitching, and a b team cast of characters led by a boob of a manager…….We Atlantans deserve better!

No Clue

May 28th, 2012
6:45 pm

Dropped from first to last. Who cares? Is anyone talking to fredi about what time his bus leaves? Maybe helping him pack? Anyone having a team meeting to stop this demolation derby? People better demand what they are paying for, and what the team is being paid for. All except Fazemike, he’s just concerned about his kudos.

Stanfield Sam

May 28th, 2012
6:48 pm

Terry Francona is available to manage. Roy Oswalt is available to pitch. Is Frank Wren coherent ?

Kennyg

May 28th, 2012
6:49 pm

Sad to say, but this latest generation of Braves’ peaked last year. Just before they blew it at the end. The pitching weaknesses are a real problem. Could be a long year. And does anyone else think this team lacks exciting players? That was some boring bunch today. On to rebuilding.

JSS

May 28th, 2012
6:49 pm

Clusters and Steve Brown are swinging for the fences!!! Well welcome to the club Mark Bradley! The clowns like Bill Shanks have bamboozled a segment of Braves fans about the level of talent ( and most importantly the will to win) that exists throughout this organization from rookie ball to the Atlanta Braves clubhouse. Steve Brown touched on it, but as we found out earlier this spring there is a sacred cow and he gets a pass!

Sonny Clusters

May 28th, 2012
6:50 pm

Flu-like symptoms have been around this team since Eddie Mathews and who can forget Andruw always catching the flu at the Gold Club? Last year it was Derek Lowe and just maybe in the Spring it was Tommy Hanson. Lo and behold, now McCann and Diaz and maybe some more are having flu -like symptoms. We was wondering about McCann ever since he “fell at the pool” and ended up with 2 black eyes and scratches and bruises consistent with a bar fight. And who can forget Chipper’s altercation in Philadelphia (not reported here)? Christian Martinez gets a DUI and he looks more sober than most. We are not suggesting they are drinking but their play may be suggesting it.

J-Man

May 28th, 2012
6:52 pm

Bradley……Guess it wasnt such a good idea to stand pat and make no moves……
You were singing the Braves praises and never once called out Fredi Gonzalez…..How about you look at how we have become the same team as last September……
Remember
“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
“Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes.”

-George Santayana

Rt

May 28th, 2012
6:55 pm

This team is weak from top to bottom!!! They will be pushed to stay out of last!

Stanfield Sam

May 28th, 2012
6:56 pm

There’s only 6 good players on the Braves team. Prado,Chipper,Hanson,Beachy,Kimbrel,and Chipper. And Chipper plays part-time. Can’t win like that

MitchC

May 28th, 2012
6:57 pm

While a long losing streak is a bit of a concern, the bright side, if there is one, is that it is only May. Last time the Braves had a free fall, it happened at the crucial end of the season.

The Braves have a lot of injuries, and that hurts. The bottom line is.. the Phillies arent healthy, and.. if they get healthy, we dont catch them anyway.

The Braves still have time to right the ship. That Is why they play 162 games. I’d be lying if I didnt admit I’m concerned, but I’m not by any means panicking yet.

If we can somehow hold our own and find a way to play 500 ball for a while, there will still be time to make a rally.

Sonny Clusters

May 28th, 2012
6:57 pm

“It ain’t nothing to do with nobody but us.” – Micharl Bourn

We could not have said it better – but most of the general population could. We think Bourn was saying it’s not Fredi’s fault. Those boos for Heyward will soon be directed to Fredi. Remember you read it here. Soon, he will never emerge from the dugout – not that he does now.

JSS

May 28th, 2012
6:57 pm

Somewhere in Japan, Kawakami is laughing his butt off!!!

Hillbilly D

May 28th, 2012
6:58 pm

And just a couple of weeks ago, they were the greatest thing since sliced bread, in this very column.

J-Man

May 28th, 2012
6:59 pm

The Braves should have Fired Fredi Gonzalez after last year. And I want to call out the entire staff of the Atlanta Journal Constitution: Mark Bradley, Jeff Schultz, David O’Brien, and Carrol Rogers for not ONCE calling out Fredi Gonzalez after that September collapse, abd now after from going from 1st place to last place in a week and losing 8 in a row and being 3-11 in the NL East.
But it just seems that you can call out Larry Drew and have a poll on if we should keep him but at least Drew can make the playoffs without his all-star center. Fredi has a much more talented team and just sits on his hands, shows no emotion, and “Tips his Cap”. And the teams follow suit by showing no effort and just go throught the motions……..Yet you dont call him out…….I would like an explaination as to why Larry Drew deserves to be fired and yet Fredi Gonzalez should keep his job.
Mr. Bradley I really would appreciate an explaination.

Stanfield Sam

May 28th, 2012
6:59 pm

I left out Hudson who stays hurt too.

In despair

May 28th, 2012
7:00 pm

Fredi is a failed leader of men. Someone please – for the merciful relief of all true Braves fans – send this man packing.

Rt

May 28th, 2012
7:01 pm

This team will never win,and it all starts at the top,and the media is way to soft on the Atlanta teams!!

Rt

May 28th, 2012
7:03 pm

What about the GM does he get a pass? Come on!

Sonny Clusters

May 28th, 2012
7:04 pm

We had it all wrong – and a Clusters is almost never wrong. We was saying the Braves should let the Henry Grady Statue play third base but then Chipper proved he can still play a little bit when he’s not bruised or tweaked or strained or grumpy. What we should have said is that the Henry Grady Statue should be managing this team. We think that is something Frank Wren could do that would make a big difference – and a big improvement – in this team. The AJC moved to Dunwoody and left the statue on Marietta Street where they used to put out a newspaper. We think the HGS can be had cheap and we would be willing to handle the negotiations if it will help the club – and it will.

J-Man

May 28th, 2012
7:05 pm

Well the GM has put a talented team on the field …………..they just havent performed…
Thats on the manager…..BTW I had people like DOB chewing me out for saying we needed Roy Oswalt. Well I was right