Good morning, Atlanta Braves fans. You watched your team for 162 games plus three playoff games. That's almost 500 hours, or 21 straight calendar days. It's 42 days if you take them in 12-hour shifts. That's a lot of baseball. You probably watched it with a goal in mind, whether consciously or unconsciously. Maybe this is the year, you thought, whether after a come-from-behind win or a dominating blowout. Maybe this is the year.
Good morning, Atlanta Braves fans. Your season depends on Freddy Garcia.
Garcia is a poor man's Bartolo Colon. He's also a gluten-free Bartolo Colon! But mostly a poor man's. Garcia is the wait-he's-still-pitching? pitcher of his generation, and as of August 23, he wasn't even in the Braves' organization. He was pitching well in Triple-A for the Orioles, where he was the fire extinguisher in the glass case in the panic room underneath the hidden trap door under the rug in the foyer. As in, no one on the Orioles expected to use him. He was the contingency plan for the contingency plan.
Now Garcia is the only hope for the Braves' season. This is why your predictions next March will be useless. You'll spend time weighing the players on a team's roster, but you'll have no idea that Julian Tavarez is going to make six starts for them in September and October. That's the Braves and Garcia this year, and they went from zero-to-Garcia in three steps:
- Tim Hudson's ankle
- Brandon Beachy's setback
- Paul Maholm's disintegration
There was a fourth option, which we'll get to in a second. But first, let's look at Garcia and the two phases of his career.
In his 20s, he was a workhorse, a 200-inning machine. He made two All-Star teams, and while he had down seasons, he was a reliable, durable fellow.
In his 30s, he's been a vagabond, a drifter. From 2007 through 2009, he threw barely 100 combined innings because of shoulder problems. In 2010, he was okay, but not the pitcher he used to be. In 2011, he was pretty outstanding for the Yankees, but only because the Yankees are creepy like that. In 2012, he was replacement level again, and then he sailed off gently into the land of NRIs.
Two Garcias. One you want on your team, and one who shouldn't show up in a major-league rotation unless several things go wrong at the same time. The Braves are counting on the latter to help keep their season alive.
I saw Garcia in the Cactus League this year, pitching for the Padres. That's probably all you need to know: The Padres had first crack and said, "No thanks, we're just going to keep hoping this Edinson Volquez guy is going to start throwing strikes if that's cool." But in the game I saw, Garcia was outstanding. His forkball/split/change was befuddling. Sure, the Giants would swing at a Pictionary entry for the word "changeup", but these were still legitimate, big-league pitches. He was placing them well, too.
If you watch that linked video, you can see how the idea of Garcia as a sixth, seventh, or eighth starter would be seductive. He throws strikes, knows what he's doing, and probably doesn't ask a lot of stupid questions. In a pinch, he'll do. His ERA+ in his 30s, in that second phase of his career: 95. That's good enough if you're desperate.
Probably not on a list of the top 150 pitchers you'd prefer in a win-or-take-home game, though.
There was a teaser up there, something about another option. Alex Wood is a 22-year-old rookie, just 15 months removed from the University of Georgia. If you're looking at peripherals and statistical indicators, it would appear that Wood would give his team a better chance to win than Garcia. More strikeouts, fewer home runs, good control, better raw stuff … it all adds up. Wood's good. He should, if he could.
But Fredi Gonzalez is thinking about experience. And after watching Julio Teheran implode in his first playoff start, can you blame him for considering it? Wood's a fine prospect, but he isn't that far away from worrying more about what to wear to a ΚΔ party. Garcia's been around and around. His postseason record is mostly stellar, and he's less likely to break down in cold sweats than Wood might be.
I'd take Wood. I would have kept him in the rotation in September, and I'd trust him more now. But I don't begrudge Gonzalez for opting for the veteran. At least Garcia has been successful in the majors recently. It's not like he's Andy Larkin, and the Braves have a good feeling.
Either way, it's an imperfect solution. The Braves finished with one of the best records in the majors. They crushed the preseason favorites from Washington. They had a busy, crazy off-season, and they had designs on winning the whole danged thing. Now they're counting on Freddy Garcia.
Yes, indeed. It's not how the Braves drew it up, but here we are. They're counting on Freddy Garcia.