Can the Atlanta Braves catch the Washington Nationals in the National League East, or secure a wild card spot?
Braves GM Frank Wren thinks so, especially after trade deadline deals that harvested left-handed starting pitcher Paul Maholm and outfielder Reed Johnson from the Cubs for promising right-hander Arodys Vizcaino and right-handed reliever Jaye Chapman.
Atlanta is 59-44 and 2.5 games behind Washington in the NL East standings and own the second wild card spot entering Wednesday night’s clash with Miami.
“We’re not looking for a Wild Card spot,” Wren told MLB.com. “We might end up with a Wild Card spot. But we’re trying to win the division. We feel like we have a team that can win the division, and we feel like the division is wide open.”
You might think the Braves feel spurned because Ryan Dempster did not approve a proposed trade that would have sent him to Atlanta for 22-year-old right-handed starting pitcher Randall Delgado, but they believe getting Maholm and not sacrificing Delgado is ideal. Vizcaino is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and is out of the season while Chapman is not a top prospect.
Delgado, who has a 4.42 ERA in 17 starts for the Braves this season, was sent to Triple-A Gwinnett, where he has made three starts and has allowed one run in each of his last two outings. Atlanta thinks that Delgado can be part of their rotation for the long term.
As for now, the Braves rotation is composed of injury prone veterans Tim Hudson (10-4, 3.68 ERA) and Ben Sheets (3-0, 0.50 ERA in three starts entering Wednesday night’s appearance), 24-year-old left-hander Mike Minor (6-7, 5.18 ERA), Maholm (who was 9-6 with a 3.74 ERA in Chicago) and26-year-old righty Kris Medlen (who has a 2.43 ERA in 39 games but made his first start of the season on Tuesday against Miami, allowing one run and four hits in five innings).
Maholm undoubtedly gives Atlanta a stable veteran in a rotation that is without Jair Jurrjens (who is back on the DL and has struggled this year with a 6.89 ERA), Tommy Hanson (who landed on the 15-day DL with a lower back strain) and Brandon Beachy (who also had Tommy John surgery and is out for the year).
Atlanta’s post-season hopes rely mostly upon the health of the starting rotation. Most teams would not have been able to withstand injuries to key arms like Hanson and Beachy, and the injuries and ineffectiveness of Jurrjens.
Yet the Braves have three veterans in Hudson, Sheets and now Maholm who can provide stability as long as they stay off the DL.