Injuries derail Braves' first-half plans
Pitching staff woes prevent club from meeting expectations
ATLANTA -- As he constructed this year's roster, Braves general manager Frank Wren knew the importance of building depth around a starting rotation that was both accomplished and aged. But he certainly didn't know how quickly his planned pitching staff would be wrecked by injuries.
As they limp out of the All-Star break, the Braves can only wonder how so much could have gone so wrong in a span of a little more than three months. By the end of the season's second week, their top two relievers had been sidelined with faulty elbows. It took a little longer for the starters to fall.
But by the second week of June, a rotation that was going to consist of four 20-game winners instead had Tim Hudson and four hurlers who hadn't notched a full year of service entering this season. Tom Glavine's homecoming was marred by a sore left elbow and the fact that his good friend John Smoltz's shoulder basically stayed healthy long enough for him to make five April starts.
Still, even with all that has gone wrong, the Braves entered the All-Star break feeling like they had underachieved.
"I'm disappointed," second baseman Kelly Johnson said. "You can look at all the injuries we've had and say it's pretty good to be where we are. But when you look at the team we had coming out of Spring Training, it's disappointing that we've had that many obstacles and not many good things happening."
As they turn the page and prepare for the season's second half, the Braves still have some reasons for hope. While Smoltz and right-handed reliever Peter Moylan have been lost to season-ending surgeries, Mike Hampton is at least giving some indication that he'll pitch again, and Glavine is hoping to do so as well.
If the pitching staff is healthier in the second half, Atlanta seemingly has the offense to make some noise down the stretch. But even the Braves' potent lineup has proven inconsistent. Mark Teixeira got off to his customary slow start. He'll likely get hot as the summer progresses. But the offense's potential won't be fully realized unless Mark Kotsay's back and Jeff Francoeur's bat prove healthier than they were during the season's first half.
With Francoeur enduring a career-worst slump that led to him being sent to Double-A Mississippi, the Braves' outfield possessed very little power. Wren will evaluate this year's trade market in search of a power-hitting corner outfielder who would be around beyond this season.
|BRAVES TOP PERFORMANCES|
4/22, WAS 6, ATL 0 -- Smoltz's milestone K
Veteran John Smoltz records his 3,000th strikeout, becoming the 16th pitcher in Major League history to reach that mark.
6/2, ATL 7, FLA 5 -- Back to the 'pen
John Smoltz makes his anticipated return to the bullpen in what be his final appearance of the year.
6/5, ATL 7, FLA 5 -- Chipper notches No. 400
Chipper Jones becomes the third Major League switch-hitter to connect for at least 400 home runs.
6/21, ATL 5, SEA 4 -- Norton's leap
After misreading a fly ball, Greg Norton recovers to make a leaping grab.
6/22, ATL 8, SEA 3 -- Teixeira flashes power
Mark Teixeira becomes the first Braves player to hit three homers in a game at Turner Field.
"We are looking to add some power, and outfield is a spot where we may have the ability to do that," Wren said. "We're just going to continue looking at all of the options in an attempt to improve the club."
One of the highlights of last year's second half came when the Braves acquired Teixeira from the Rangers. This year, Wren might be dealing Teixeira before the July 31 deadline in order to get some proven compensation for the switch-hitting first baseman, who doesn't seem likely to re-sign with Atlanta when he becomes a free agent this offseason.
Of course, Teixeira's fate could be determined by whether the Braves are able to spend the second half's first few weeks avoiding the injury hex that followed them throughout the first half. If he sticks around, he could enhance Chipper Jones' bid to win his first batting title and maybe even his second career MVP Award. The All-Star third baseman hit over .400 for half of season's first half and ranks near the top of the National League in many statistical categories.
But as the Braves' inconsistencies progressed throughout the first half, it was tough for Jones to enjoy his stellar season.
"We've got to crawl before we can walk," Jones said. "We've never been able to get on a consistent streak, and the only way we're going to do it is by taking it one game at a time and not looking too far ahead."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.