I was disconsolate when the Braves were eliminated by the Dodgers. The baseball deities are fickle, especially in the playoffs, but Atlanta’s 13-14 September record and performance provided a decent preview of what happened in the National League Division Series. Health issues paired with gaping offensive holes finally caught up with the Braves.
The great strength of the team throughout the year was the relief corps. Losing stalwarts Cristhian Martinez, Jonny Venters, and Eric O’Flaherty early on was a significant blow, but allowed Luis Avilan, Luis Ayala, and David Carpenter to prove their quality for most of the season. New additions Jordan Walden and Scott Downs were effective until each suffered injury, and neither was when they returned. The late-season struggles of Walden and Downs destabilized the entire operation.
You can never have enough starting pitching. The horrifying, season-ending injury to Tim Hudson changed the makeup of the rotation. Brandon Beachy’s elbow discomfort after coming back from Tommy John surgery meant that he couldn’t make more than a few starts. Paul Maholm had injury problems as well, but was inconsistent and ineffective all year. Hudson’s return in 2014, either from injury or the expiration of his contract, is not certain. The late-season emergence of Alex Wood and David Hale means the Braves have legitimate fifth-starter options. Getting thirty-plus starts from a healthy rotation of Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Brandon Beachy, and either Wood or Hale should yield positive results next season.
Jason Heyward was a critical piece of the Braves lineup, and he missed significant time due to an appendix operation in Denver and a broken jaw in New York. Brian McCann was out for the first month after shoulder surgery and missed the last few games of the regular season with a groin injury. Of course, McCann may depart for a bigger contract in the off-season, but keeping Heyward healthy in the lead-off spot in 2014 is a priority.
I don’t know if it’s possible to quantify the extent to which Dan Uggla’s historically-bad plate performance in 2013 was related to his eye health. The fact remains that Uggla and BJ Upton were terrible the entire year. Both are signed to albatross contracts, so one can only hope that they won’t be as bad when spring returns, and with it, renewed hope.