The State of the Braves pitchers, Feb. 2
John Smoltz - The ol' reliable rock of the pitching staff. It's amazing that he's still pitching as well as he is. I hope it lasts as long as possible. Smoltz turns 40 in May and I'm sure the injury questions will pop up again with him, just like they do every other season. He'll pitch like he did last year, and maybe there will be a few little injuries, like last season.
Mike Hampton - The last time he stepped on a mound in the regular season was in August of 2005. So after a year and a half of relative inaction, can Hampton contribute even an average season for the Braves? That's about what I expect, which would be a step up from all the other people who filled in the fourth and fifth starter slots after Horacio Ramirez and John Thomson went down with injuries.
Tim Hudson - Even a bigger question mark than Hampton, and he started 35 games last season. What was the cause? He gave up a lot of home runs, but not many more than he gave up in Oakland at worst. Was he trying to pitch through an injury? Was this just a fluke bad year? I sure hope so. The Braves Wild Card chances hinge on that, at least.
Chuck James - Chuck allowed a chunk of runs for someone who won 11 games, but he should be fine in his second season as a starter. The Braves are going to need him as well. I think him being a flyball pitcher is a bit valid: he allowed 20 homers in half the innings that it took Hudson to allow 25 dingers.
Kyle Davies - Hampered with injuries most of last season and inconsistent otherwise, let's hope that a full off-season of recovery can help him be the pitcher that he could be and what the Braves really need out of the back end of their staff. I can't say much more than that because I don't have much good things to go on. ;)
Oscar Villarreal - Nicknamed "Vulture" on Braves Journal because of his penchant for getting wins off of others, a lot. He was the signature long reliever of the team in 2006 and did a decent job there. He'll do a decent job there again. Also, the Braves won three of his four starts.
Macay McBride - The upside here is that he rarely allowed more than two runs in any sitting. Since he had experience in 2006, he may do better next season.
Tyler Yates - His middle name is Kali. That's all you need to know. Oh, how does he pitch? Ahem, well. He's not that great: he allowed two or more runs six times in 56 games with Atlanta, which ballooned his ERA. However, he seems to have a lively fastball, so that's why Bobby Cox is keeping him on the squad.
Blaine Boyer - One of the early injuries that decimated the Braves bullpen, Boyer will be looking to earn one of the four bullpen spots up for grabs. Yes, I said "four". Why? Well...
Mike Gonzalez - Obtained from Pittsburgh, Gonzalez has a cannon for a left arm, probably one of the best fireballing left-handed leaders in all of baseball. His stats show it as well. However, he has had a history of some elbow trouble and never pitched more than 54 innings in a season. But he may not have to. :)
Rafael Soriano - Imported from Seattle, Soriano is another fireballer that will probably share setup duties with Gonzalez, which creates a strong young combination. I would guess that he is part of the only trade in baseball history that involved two players who got beaned with a line drive in the same year.
Bob Wickman - He was the Braves' savior, stepping right into the closer's role after being traded to Atlanta and blowing just one save, converting 10 others. He'll be a dependable closer because he does know how to pitch in the closer's role. Kind of like Trevor Hoffman or at worst, Doug Jones. :)
The bullpen, the Achilles heel of the 2006 Braves, is much improved. The starters are about at the same situation they were last year. However, if the offense holds up, these Braves could be Wild Card contenders. :D
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