With the rotation nightmare, how in the world did the Braves do this?

Bill Shanks

Whenever your team loses, and it's a good team that had expectations, it sometimes takes a while to get over. Watching the World Series Tuesday night was not easy for any Braves fan, considering how close they were to getting there.

It will sting to know that for the first time in 19 years they were in the NLCS and that close to playing for it all. But we should truly instead appreciate the thrills we had in October and realize the Braves probably had no business even being in the postseason.

Consider these things:

1 - Felix Hernandez opted out in summer camp, worried about COVID-19. Hernandez was winning a rotation job in spring training, but the day after Freddie Freeman announced he had the virus, Hernandez went home.

2 - Mike Foltynewicz started the fourth game of the season on July 27. He gave up six runs on four hits in 3.1 innings, with four walks and three strikeouts. Foltynewicz, looking gaunt and down about 15-20 pounds from when we saw him in spring training, was banished to the alternate camp and never heard from again. That will be his last appearance in a Braves uniform.

3 - Mike Soroka was off to a great start but in his third appearance on August 3 went down with a torn Achilles' and would miss the rest of the season. 

4 - Sean Newcomb begged to get back into the starting rotation, but after having an 11.20 ERA in four starts he was sent to the alternate camp and never came back up. The Braves weren't even confident he could return to the bullpen role he had in 2019. 

5 - Cole Hamels was hurt in spring training, hurt in summer camp, Hamels came back for one start September 16 and did not impress. A few days later, he would tell the Braves he was finished after feeling more arm fatigue. The Braves got 3.1 innings for the $6.66 million truncated salary Hamels received.

6 - Kyle Wright had a 7.20 ERA in his first four starts and was sent out to the alternate camp. His first start back on September 8 was not good, but then in his last three starts Wright had an ERA of 2.37 to give the Braves some hope for his future.

7 - Touki Toussaint had an ERA of 7.52 in his five starts. The Braves handed him a rotation spot out of need twice, and Toussaint had only one good start - on August 6 vs. Toronto (3 ER in 6.2 IP, 0 BB, 9 K). After that great appearance, Toussaint had an ERA of 12.27 with 12 walks in 11.0 innings.

8 - Robbie Erlin was signed out of desperation and made five starts. He allowed 16 earned runs in 17.2 innings for an ERA of 8.15 and was released September 14.

9 - Tommy Milone was the one acquisition before the trade deadline. He made three starts and allowed 16 earned runs in 9.2 innings for an ERA of 14.90 and was released September 30.

10 - Huascar Ynoa was pressed into starting and failed in five games, posting an 8.53 ERA with 12 earned runs allowed on 17 hits in 12.2 innings. His bullpen ERA was much better - 2.00 in four games.

11 - Josh Tomlin was thrown into the rotation and had a 6.33 ERA in five games. As a reliever, though, Tomlin continued to show that is his role, posting an ERA of 2.95 in 12 games.

In a 60-game season, the Braves had 14 pitchers make starts. They did everything but bring 81-year-old Phil Niekro out of retirement to try and get through the season.

Thankfully, Ian Anderson came up and surprised everyone by pitching great. We did see progress late in the season from Bryse Wilson, including a great start in the NLCS.

Something that was considered a strength going into the truncated season was instead a nightmare, as Atlanta had the worst starters' ERA in the National League (5.51).

Amazingly, the rotation of Max Fried, Anderson, Wright and Wilson had a collective ERA of 2.79 in the postseason, which gave the Braves a chance to go much deeper that we could have ever expected.

This was a miracle that the Braves won a playoff series, much less two. Yes, we should thank the offense, which averaged 5.8 runs per game in the regular season and 4.75 runs per game in the postseason. 

The bullpen obviously was strong, with a 3.50 ERA in the regular season. It struggled some in the playoffs, with a 4.33 ERA.

Again, it hurts to watch the Dodgers play in the World Series. After 21 years of not being in the Fall Classic, the fans are ready to see the Braves back there. But with all that happened to the starting rotation, how in the world were they even in position to possibly go anyway? 

Maybe Jayson Stark or another baseball historian can check to see what team in the sport's history made it within a few runs of the World Series with this unparalleled scenario of having the rotation fall apart.

But let's be thankful the Braves made it this far and realize how close they are getting to being a World Series team. They are getting there. You can feel it, just like we felt in the early-90s when the Braves were getting close and won it all in 1995.

We all must feel better now about this team than we even felt going into this 60-game season, knowing what a healthy Soroka, a seasoned Fried, Anderson showing what he did, and the potential for Wright and Wilson to build off their success could mean in 2021.

FOR MORE BRAVES COVERAGE, LISTEN TO THE BILL SHANKS SHOW WEEKDAYS AT 3:00 P.M. ET ON SPORTSRADIO 93-1 WXKO THESUPERSTATIONS.COM.

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