The 2013 Atlanta Braves led the National League — and were second in baseball, trailing Detroit — with 102 quality starts. At the rate the 2014 Braves are going, they’ll finish with 139 quality starts. And here we pause to restate the oft-restated: These Braves lost two starting pitchers to Tommy John surgery in spring and have yet to deploy Mike Minor or Gavin Floyd, two starters who are rehabbing in the minors.
The Braves have played 21 games. Eighteen of them — that’s the highest total in baseball, not surprisingly — have yielded a quality start, which is defined as at least six innings from a starting pitcher with three or fewer earned runs. But the Braves’ starters have been so dominant as to render a Quality Start an Easy A.
Aaron Harang hasn’t yet been touched for two earned runs in any of his five starts. Ervin Santana hasn’t yielded more one earned run in any of his three. Julio Teheran hasn’t yielded more than two earned runs in any of his five. Alex Wood has yielded a total of six earned runs in five starts. Those four have produced 17 quality starts in 18 tries, the only exception coming April 12 when Wood was lifted after five innings against the Nationals when holding a 5-1 lead.
Even David Hale, the fifth starter who has taken three well-spaced turns, has generated one quality start and hasn’t yielded more than three earned runs in any of his appearances. If you’re looking for an insane number, right there it is: The Braves have played 21 games, and not once has a starting pitcher surrendered more than three runs.
With that sort of pitching, the wonder isn’t that the Braves are 14-7. The wonder is that they’re ONLY 14-7. Then we note that they’ve been shut out four times already and have lost a fifth game 2-1 and a sixth 4-3 in extra innings. Another fun stat: When the Braves score at all, they’re 14-3.
And to think: This has all been done by a rotation thought to be so weakened that Frank Wren had to run out and sign Santana on March 12 and Harang, who’d just been cut by Cleveland, on March 24. The best anybody could have hoped was that this bunch could hold the line until Minor and Floyd got healthy, but these five pitchers have somehow become the best rotation in baseball. (Question for another day: If Hale sits to make room for Minor, who sits to make space for Floyd? Wood? Surely not.)
And here we note that the Braves’ best move of the offseason, even above the signings of Santana and Harang and the re-signings of four members of the prized young core, might well have been keeping pitching coach Roger McDowell from leaving for the Phillies. He’s the best in the business. He’s so far the best in the business that nobody is in second place.