The Braves were officially eliminated from the NL East Division race on Wednesday. It's the first time since 1990 they will not have won the division - ending a record run of 14 consecutive seasons.
The run ended because the bullpen has been the worst in baseball and the wheels fell off the starting pitching as Tim Hudson's declining K/BB ratio finally caught up to him and with injuries to Kyle Davies, Chuck James and Horacio Ramirez. Also the minor league system, which bailed out the team last year, was finally empty. The Braves were so desperate for pitching and had such few alternatives in the minors that at one point the bullpen had three pitchers who were basically out of baseball last season.
Can they rebound in 2007? The offense has scored the third most runs in the NL, so it's not really the problem. But here's the rotation for next season:
SP1 - John Smoltz - His $8 million option for next season may be the best value in baseball.
SP2 - Chuck James
SP3 - Tim Hudson
SP4 - Kyle Davies
SP5 - Mike Hampton or Horacio Ramirez
That's not bad if Hudson can return to being an above average pitcher and if Hampton returns from Tommy John surgery - espcially if James and Davies stay healthy and continue their recent upward trend. GM John Schuerholz will need to spend liberally in the bullpen, however. Other than Joey Devine, who has a chronic back injury and may never pan out, there's not a lot of upside from the current lot.
I'd trade Adam LaRoche while he's hot this offseason for bullpen help and pitching depth. Despite his strong second half, I'm not convinced he can hit left-handed pitching. The move would also allow the Braves to move Chipper Jones to first base (he's locked up at $11 million a year through 2008) to reduce the wear on his oft-injured body.
So the Braves may not be dead yet. They'll just need to prove they can win in the Leo Mazzone-less era.