|Sheets can lead Braves to playoffs||| Print ||
Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on August 03, 2012
When he was healthy, Sheets was a reliable starter for the Milwaukee Brewers. But over the past 7 1/2, he’s only made 30 starts in a season once and missed two full years (2009 and 2011) completely battling elbow problems.
The Atlanta Braves were utterly desperate for a starting pitcher after losing first-half standout Brandon Beachy to Tommy John Surgery. Rather than rush prospects Randall Delgado or Julio Teheran to the majors, the Braves signed Sheets off the scrap heap.
And through four starts, Sheets appears to have regained his old form, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Braves.
Photo by Steve Paluch, used under creative commons license.
At first, the baseball world thought the Braves were crazy. Bringing in a known injury risk to replace an already injured starting pitcher? It seemed like a long shot to be a success.
He hadn’t thrown a professional pitch in over a year and half. What could the Braves have possibly seen in Sheets that led to this signing?
Once again, when healthy, Sheets is a solid starting pitcher. The Braves determined that he was finally healthy and thus gave him a shot.
Sheets so far is 3-1 with a 1.46 ERA. In his first two starts, Sheets tossed six scoreless innings each time out to record the victories. In his third start, Sheets outdueled Cole Hamels, who recently signed a six-year, $144 million contract extension. Sheets gave up his first earned run of the season, but he still turned in six strong innings.
Sheets is no stranger to a late season playoff push. He teamed up with C.C. Sabathia in 2008 to lead the Brew Crew to a wild card berth. The Braves are currently the second wild card team in the NL, trailing the upstart Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Braves have put out a relatively consistent offensive attack all season, so the pitching staff will either make or break the team down the stretch. Atlanta’s bullpen has been reliable, especially with All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel being virtually unhittable in the ninth inning.
Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson have carried the bulk of the load in the starting rotation, but Jair Jurrjens and Mike Minor have been mediocre. Therefore, Sheets could be the missing link in leading the Braves to the playoffs.
The Braves will hope Sheets can turn in a solid six-inning performance in every start and then put the game in the hands of the bullpen. Through his four starts, Sheets has shown he can do this.
Does the 34-year-old have enough left in the tank? How long will his surgically-repaired elbow hold up? Will the Braves get enough out of their other starting pitchers to make a run?
All these questions should be answered in the next few weeks. So far, it’s been nice to see Sheets make a successful comeback. It’s been a feel-good story watching a guy who just couldn’t stay healthy take significant strides the past few weeks.