Coming into the 2012 Major League Baseball season, the one thing nobody knew about for sure was the status of the Atlanta Braves' rotation. Everyone knew that once healthy, Tim Hudson would be solid. Tommy Hanson was expected to step up and become the ace of the staff. Brandon Beachy was on his way to greatness before he had to undergo Tommy John surgery. Then the team was relying on Mike Minor and Randall Delgado, both inexperienced throwers and Jair Jurrjens, who had struggled in Spring Training and couldn't stay on the field at the end of 2011.
The rotation in its original incarnation struggled, but the latest variation with Ben Sheets, Paul Maholm and Kris Medlen has been stellar. Some could argue that without Medlen, the team would be out of the playoff chase and they would be right.
As the Braves' rotation struggled earlier this year, the thought of putting Medlen in the rotation was brought up. The team struggled with the decision to do it or leave him in the bullpen. If they knew then what they now about how dominant he has been, they would have placed him in the rotation in May.
Since making his first start of the season on July 31, Medlen has been spectacular. He has gone 5-0 after allowing just three earned runs in 40 2/3 innings. He threw the first complete game shutout of his career against the San Diego Padres on Aug. 16 and hasn't given up a run since beating the New York Mets on Aug. 11. In his last start against the Padres (Aug. 28), Medlen was again unhittable, allowing just five hits in eight shutout innings while recording nine strikeouts.
If he continues to pitch the way he has in recent weeks, the Braves chance at catching up with the Washington Nationals would be far greater. If he can't find a way to maintain this string of recent success, it will be a long conclusion to the season for the Braves once again.
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Hobson Lopes has been a life-long Atlanta Braves fan, thanks to TBS, and can be followed on Twitter @HobsonLopes.
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