The Impact of Braves Injuries on the NL East Division Race
Atlanta Braves 2014
The Braves Major Injuries
So far the Braves have lost Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery, for the season. Kris Medlen was slated to be the Braves opening day starter, but the Braves were able to replace him by signing Ervin Santana. The Braves also have free agent signing Gavin Floyd, and left handed starter Mike Minor, out until late April. This predicament will really test the Braves pitching depth early, and it could lead to them getting off to a slow start. While the Nationals were already favored to take the NL East in 2014, this probably gives them even more of an advantage as they look to upend the reigning division champions. While these injuries do not eliminate the Braves as a playoff contender, it does open the door for other teams in the National League East to challenge them for one of the top two spots in the division. The Braves do have pitching depth, but now it is overextended early, so they will need to get Floyd and Minor back quickly if they want to hold off the other teams in their division.
The Challenging Teams
The Phillies, Marlins and Mets could all step up and challenge the Braves for one of the top two spots in the National League East this season. The injuries on the Braves pitching staff, make them susceptible to being passed by another team in the division, that has a deep pitching staff. While the Phillies have a lot of experience as a team, without Cole Hamels ready to go early on in the season, it would be a surprise if they were the team to overtake the Braves. The Mets start the season without Matt Harvey, and he figures to miss most of 2014, so while they could make a run at the Braves, they are also a less likely candidate. The Marlins however, have a pitching staff that goes four deep in the rotation and could lead a contender in the near future. The Marlins also have the best pitcher in the division leading their pitching staff, but their offense has some question marks. The Braves are fortunate that the challenging teams have their own question marks and injury issues to deal with, but this does not mean that one of them will not overtake them in the standings.
When considering the closest challengers to the Braves, it is probably between the Phillies and Marlins. The Phillies have a lineup filled with veteran players that have been in pennant races before, and they have upgraded the defense that they will put behind their pitchers this season. The Marlins are a younger team overall, but they are probably more athletic and less injury prone than the Phillies are currently. While the Phillies have pieced together a complete offensive lineup, fatigue and throwing setbacks that Cole Hamels is experiencing this spring, have really toned down the expectations for the Phillies. The Marlins question marks offensively, could be answered by veterans Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee, but last season they only scored 3.16 runs per game. The Marlins were hurt by injuries to key offensive players last season, and were forced to field a lineup that featured a lot of replacement level offensive players, in order to fill the voids left by injuries. In 2014, if their key guys stay healthy, they figure to field a better offensive team. However, it remains to be seen, how they will come together as an offensive unit.
Final NL East Standings Predictions
The Braves will most likely hold onto one of the top two spots in the National League East standings, but their injuries could result in the National League East sending only one team to the postseason in 2014. Both the Marlins and Phillies have enough talent to push the Braves and Nationals, but as of right now it will be tough for them, unless their questions get answered very positively as they get into the regular season. As a result of the Braves injuries, the National League East will most likely be a pack of teams that plays pretty evenly early on, but the Nationals should gain separation from the rest, and the Mets could fall behind the rest. With the way every team is looking to gain a statistical advantage through the use of defensive shifts and tweaks to the offensive lineups, only the teams with the most transcendent talent will be good enough to make it to the postseason. It is no longer good enough to just be a team full of good players, as a renewed focus on defense and pitching has made it tough on offensive players around baseball.
The Braves as a playoff team
Ultimately the Braves had enough young talent emerge last season, that they could have enough depth to carry them through this injury predicament. Getting off to a hot start offensively again this season, will be key for the Braves, if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive. A tough month of April could make it nearly impossible to make up ground later in the season without Medlen and Beachy to lean on. When Mike Minor returns from injury, he along with Ervin Santana and Julio Teheran, will lead the pitching staff. However, the Braves will need Alex Wood to continue his emergence, in order to return to the postseason. The Atlanta Braves will be an interesting team to watch, as their depth will be tested when they start their journey through the 2014 season. While this article focuses mostly on the pitching staff because of the injuries, it is the Braves offensive strength and depth that will carry their team as a playoff contender this season.