Heading into the 2014 season, the Atlanta Braves pitching rotation looked set. With returning starters Kris Medlen, Julio Teheran, and Mike Minor, plus the expected return of Brandon Beachy, who missed most of 2013 while recovering from Tommy John Surgery, it seemed that the Braves would have a one of the National League’s top staffs. With all of the talk about how good the starting pitching could be, few fans gave much thought to Alex Wood.
Wood, a second round pick in the 2012 draft, had pitched well in a limited role in 2013, making 31 appearances, including 11 starts, and finishing the season with a 3-3 record and a 3.13 ERA. While the Braves were hoping he would develop into a star in the future, the plan for 2014 was for him to compete with David Hale for the chance to be the fifth starter, at least until free agent signee Gavin Floyd recovered from surgery.
But then Atlanta’s starting rotation imploded. Medlen and Beachy were both lost for the year with elbow injuries. Minor suffered a urinary tract infection, followed by shoulder soreness which delayed his preparation for the season. Suddenly, instead of trying to pitch his way into the fifth starter spot, Wood found himself in the number 2 spot behind Teheran.
Atlanta entered the season with a rotation consisting of Teheran, Wood, Hale, and journeyman Aaron Harang, who signed with the Braves on March 24. The team also signed free agent Ervin Santana, but he wouldn’t be ready for a week or two. Most fans were hoping that the team could simply tread water until Santana, Minor, and Floyd returned, and hoping that Wood could hold his own. Certainly no one expected him to come out and pitch like an ace.
But that is exactly what he has done. Following an eleven strikeout performance vs the Florida Marlins on April 22, Wood’s ERA stood at 1.54; good for eighth best in the National League. Don’t be fooled by the 2-3 record, he has pitched well enough to be 5-0. In Wood’s three losses, the Braves have scored a combined total of one run. That’s right, one. In his last two outings, Wood went eight innings and allowed only one run in each start. He hasn’t allowed more than two runs in any of his starts, and only once has failed to go at least seven innings.
Perhaps Wood’s performance has inspired the rest of the staff. As of April 24, Atlanta led all of Major League Baseball with a 2.10 ERA. Harang is pitching the best baseball of his career, going 3-1 with a microscopic 0.85 ERA through five starts. Santana, who made his debut on April 8, has allowed only one run in three starts. The rotation has been so good that Teheran’s 1.80 ERA, the ninth best in the National League, is only fourth best on his own team.
This remarkable pitching has the Braves in first place in the National League Eastern Division, despite an offense that ranks just 24th in the Majors in runs scored. With Minor expected to return soon, the starting rotation should only get deeper. Should Atlanta’s pitching continue to be anywhere close to as good as it has been so far, the Braves should be right in the middle of the playoff hunt again this season.