The Atlanta Braves didn't panic. After a historic collapse down the stretch in 2011, there weren't mass firings or hair-trigger personnel moves. Instead, management basically stuck with who they had, and made a few minor adjustments in 2012, particularly with regard to workloads for their top relief pitchers. And it worked. After falling one victory short in 2011, in 2012 the Braves won 94 games to earn a spot in the National League's inaugural Wild Card Game. But which player best symbolized the Braves' successful, if ultimately unsatisfying, season?
I'm tempted to join Talking Chop (see sidebar) and choose Chipper Jones as the Braves' Player of the Year. After all, he played wonderfully in his last season, just as the Braves did ... until the Wild Card Game, when he played poorly, just as the Braves did. So he's a fine choice. But I've got a couple of reservations. One, Chipper played in only 112 games this season. And two, the Braves didn't actually hit the ball real well, finishing seventh in the National League in scoring.
Their pitching, though, was real good. Both their starting pitching and their relief pitching. And nobody exemplifies the Braves' starting and relief pitching like Kris Medlen; in fact, I wonder how many pitchers have ever done what Kris Medlen did in 2012.
Medlen pitched just a couple of innings in 2011, because of a torn elbow ligament. Instead of immediately working him into the rotation in 2012, the Braves sent Medlen to the bullpen on Opening Day.
He stayed there until late July, and he thrived. He didn't pitch brilliantly, but he did post a 2.48 ERA in 38 games and 54 innings.
And then on the last day of July, with injuries depleting what once seemed a deep deep squad of starting pitchers, Medlen joined Atlanta's rotation.
Medlen would start a dozen games before season's end, and the Braves would win all dozen of them; for his part, Medlen's record as a starting pitcher was 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA.
But just as Chipper Jones played so well for six months, only to struggle in the Braves' Wild Card Game against the Cardinals, Medlen had his postseason problems as well.
He didn't pitch poorly against the Cardinals. He pitched into the seventh, and gave up five runs but only two of those were earned ... and a couple of those unearned runs resulted from Chipper Jones' throwing error.
Yes, Chipper Jones symbolizes the Braves of the last couple of decades better than anyone; all those Hall of Fame pitchers wound up going elsewhere and pitching for other teams, while Chipper was forever a Brave. But when I think about the 2012 Braves, I won't first think about Chipper Jones. I'll think about Kris Medlen's brilliance, along with the first time all year the Braves lost a game that he started.
In case you missed any previous entries in this EXCITING SERIES, here's the archive.