A's better equipped than Braves to overcome pitching injuries

Hannah Foslien

Despite a number of injuries in their respective rotations, the A's and Braves pitching staffs haven't missed a beat so far this season. Can the two clubs keep pitching well, even with all of the injuries?

One of the prevailing themes for the Athletics and Braves in recent years has been each organization's ability to develop quality starting pitching in the minor leagues.

For both clubs, a plethora of talented, homegrown starters has proven to be the foundation upon which their success has been built. Dating back to 2011, Atlanta's pitching staff has posted the best ERA in the majors at 3.36, while Oakland's 3.59 mark ranks them fifth in baseball.

In 2014, though, that track record will be tested, with both teams forced grapple with significant injuries to vital members of their rotation. The A's lost Jarrod Parker to season-ending Tommy John surgery in March, and A.J. Griffin has dealt with elbow problems of his own and has no timetable for return. The Braves might be in even worse shape as Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy have both been lost for the season, and Mike Minor has just begun a minor league rehab assignment after undergoing shoulder surgery in December.

All these injuries have forced the A's and Braves to turn to back-up plans for their rotations, with the likes of Jesse Chavez and Josh Lindblom starting games for Oakland and Aaron Harang and David Hale taking the mound for Atlanta so far in April

Yet despite all the injuries, both Oakland and Atlanta's staffs have fared quite well in the early going. The Braves have allowed the fewest runs in the majors, and the A's have the game's fourth-stingiest staff through their first 10 contests.

Can these two rotations remain among the MLB's elite even as their depth is tested?

For the A's staff, these strong performances are a good bet to continue. Although Sonny Gray has less than a year of big-league experience under his belt, he has looked right at home ever since he arrived in the majors. Armed with a quality fastball that touches the mid-90s and a legit curve, Gray has shown the type of arsenal that can succeed near the top of a rotation.

Oakland's signing of Scott Kazmir looks even more significant now, and through two starts, the left-hander has picked up right where he left off in Cleveland. In addition, Dan Straily and Chavez both have a track record of success in the upper minors that should enable them to hold their own in the bigs, although Chavez is transitioning from the bullpen.

If the A's can get Griffin back at some point this summer, their rotation should be just fine as the season goes on.

Whether the Braves can overcome all their pitching injuries is a bigger question mark. Harang has given them two good starts to begin the year, but outside of a decent 2012, the 35-year-old hasn't had an above-average season since 2009 and is coming off a career-worst 2013 campaign. Hale, meanwhile, has walked more batters than he's struck out in his first two starts and hasn't pitched past the fifth inning.

Beyond Harang and Hale, questions remain over whether Alex Wood can handle a 200-inning workload and if Ervin Santana can replicate his strong 2013 season after a disastrous 2012. If the Braves can get Minor healthy and Julio Teheran can continue his impressive development, their rotation might be just fine.

But that's a lot of uncertainty for Atlanta, which needs a lot of things for them to break right in order to remain among the best rotations in the NL. The A's, conversely, have a more stable staff, something Griffin will only add to when he returns from injury.

Of course, given how frequently pitchers get hurt, the possibility of more injuries as the season continues can't be ruled out. If either the A's or Braves endure another injury to one of their starters, they might just finally run out of viable options.

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