Even though Ben Sheets again mastered the Bravos on Friday night – how does this guy have an ERA over 3? – Horacio’s outing is highly encouraging. He could, in fact, be the key to the stretch run.
As the Braves enter a full-fledged pennant drive, with the Phillies just 2.5 games back and the Marlins at this writing a half game behind them, the Bravos’ fate rests largely with the starting rotation. Therefore I’m mightily heartened to see Horacio string two good starts together because for the past three months, it’s been a crap shoot when Smoltz and Hudson aren’t pitching.
Since June dawned, the Braves are 13-3 in the great Smoltzie’s starts, 21-11 with him or Hudson on the hill. Significantly, they’re 5-3 in Hudson’s games since he got healthy and left the DL. Those two are as good as any 1-2.
After that, the menu is spotty. When anyone else starts, the team in June, July and August is 25-24. If Horacio is consistent from here, and Sosa can keep it up, the rotation should be fine. It’d obviously help if Thomson rights himself, and I still think he might. Hey John, the sooner the better. Hampton is done for the year. Even if he returns, he can’t contribute meaningfully.
Horacio has, of course, pitched well for long stretches, but not since early last season. He has to regain that form, or we could all be spared our October yips for the first time since 1990. Sosa’s been very good but he’s unproven. Thomson just might not be right again this year, though he wasn’t completely awful his last start. Still, he’s a command guy, and his command simply has not been there. Indeed, I think the rotation is the foremost issue facing the team.
The bullpen is worse, yes, but if the rotation falters, the ‘pen doesn’t much matter. I’ll spare the couple of readers another tome about the relievers. We’ve read enough about that.
As the upper Midwest chill of the past week shows, the offense is no guarantee either. It’s a bit like the rotation: the top half is excellent, the rest is unpredictable. LaRoche alternates between hitting like Albert Pujols and Luis Pujols*. My blog cohort, CB, has christened him the new Sid Bream, and that seems about right -- a .260ish hitter with occasional pop who’s prone to 4-6-3’s and two-week slumps. Francoeur has been super, but will that last in the crucible of a race when pitchers start feeding him two-strike sliders in the dirt? Estrada and McCann are solid, while Johnson-hans are sometimes passable, sometimes punchless.
I’m guessing Horacio keeps it up. Five of his past seven starts
have been good, and he’s pitched at least seven innings in eight of his past 10. Combining his aborted 2004 and this season, Horacio’s made 36 starts, about a full season’s worth. In that stretch, he’s 12-12 with a 3.96 ERA. That’s OK, but he’s shown flashes of being better lately.
He’d better be because the rest of the division is cooking. The Mets got Trachsel back last night and he threw 8 shutout innings. They’re blazing and have a dynamic lineup. We all know Beltran can carry a team if he cranks it up. I suspect the Phils will falter, but with perhaps the most dominating rotation in the game, and now the rookie Vargas also smoking, the Marlins are capable of a 25-8 type run. Just this afternoon, Willis pitched another gem and they cobbled together two runs to win 2-1 mostly because Maddux hit a couple of guys.
Alright, Horacio, keep nipping corners and pumping first-pitch strikes. As Spike Lee’s first movie title almost said, We gotta have it.
* A career .193 hitter