ATLANTA – Brandon Beachy did his best to forget what happened at the end of last season.
It all came back to him this past weekend, when the Braves pitcher was in St. Louis visiting his college roommate.
Everywhere Beachy looked, there were shirts, caps and other gear celebrating the Cardinals’ improbable World Series championship.
A title, of course, that came at Atlanta’s expense.
“They’re lucky we lost that last game,” Beachy said, managing a weak smile.
Beachy and a handful of his teammates were back at Turner Field on Monday to begin two weeks of informal workouts before the team heads to Florida for spring training.
Naturally, the subject of what happened at the end of last season came up very quickly.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it. The Braves blew it, becoming the first franchise ever to squander an eight-game lead in September with a playoff spot on the line.
Instead, the Cardinals clinched the NL wild card on the final day of the regular season. Then, as if rubbing more salt in the Braves’ wound, St. Louis went on to win two playoff series before taking the championship with a thrilling seven-game win over the Texas Rangers in the World Series.
For the Braves, it’s time to move on.
There’s not much more they can do.
“On January 1, the calendar turned over to 2012,” pitching coach Roger McDowell said. “So, it is a new year. Like any other experience you go through — good, bad or indifferent — you learn from it and move on.”
Nevertheless, the Braves figure to be one of the most intriguing teams this season. Unlike Boston, which had a similar meltdown on the AL side and now has a new manager and general manager, Atlanta will go into the season with largely the same cast that appeared to have a playoff spot all locked up with a month to go, only to come up one game short.
All those guys who endured so much disappointment last September will try to put it in the rearview mirror.
“What happens in the past won’t dictate what happens in the future,” McDowell insisted.
Pitcher Derek Lowe, a huge disappointment, was traded to Cleveland (though the Braves are still paying US$10 million of his salary). Hitting coach Larry Parrish was let go after one season. Otherwise, not much changed — which sparked plenty of grumbling from the team’s fans.
Beachy, though, expects the Braves to benefit greatly from choosing patience over panic.
“I’m not surprised, and I’m pleased with it,” the right-hander said, looking around the largely empty clubhouse. “I don’t think there was a need for anything drastic to happen. Obviously, that’s the way the people making the decisions felt, too. We’re all confident in what we’ve got in this circle right here.”
From all indications, pitching will again be the team’s strong point, assuming everyone is healthy. McDowell insists there are no pressing concerns outside of 16-game winner Tim Hudson, who underwent surgery in late November to repair a herniated disc in his back. He might get a bit of a late start, but the Braves appear to have more than enough depth to get by if their senior starter misses the first few weeks of the regular season.
Starters Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, who battled injuries in the second half of the season, should be ready to go on the first day of spring training, according to McDowell.
Jurrjens is especially excited for a fresh start. He went just 1-3 after being selected for his first All-Star Game and was mentioned prominently in trade talks over the winter. But he’s still in Atlanta, eager to get in full season now that doctors have discovered the underlying cause of his lingering knee problems — a shorter-than-normal joint in his right big toe, which caused his ankle to turn outward and put more street on the knee.
After being fitted with orthotics, the pain was gone in a couple of weeks.
“I feel like I’m a brand new kid,” said Jurrjens, who just turned 26 this past weekend. “I’m happy I’m here and I’ll be trying to help the team as much as I can.”
The Braves were able to at least consider the idea off trading Jurrjens because they have an abundance of young starters. Two of them — right-handers Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran — got in some throwing and running Monday, when there was a bit of a chill in the air but the temperature climbed toward 15 degrees Celsius under a gorgeous blue sky.
Delgado started seven games in the heat of a playoff race and showed enormous poise for someone only 21 years old. Teheran just turned 21 last week, but he’s already pitched five games in the big leagues. Hanson and Beachy are 25. Left-hander Mike Minor is 24.
The bullpen wore down late in the season, but closer Craig Kimbrel (a unanimous choice for NL rookie of the year after saving 46 games) and set-up relievers Jonny Venters (1.84 earned-run average) and Eric O’Flaherty (0.98) are as effective as any group in the big leagues.
Kris Medlen, who missed most of last season recovering from major elbow surgery, adds another promising arm in the bullpen and could take some of the load off the Big Three.
“We have a good team. We have a good pitching staff,” McDowell said. “We’ll move on.”