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Tim Hudson Injury: Where Do the Atlanta Braves Go From Here?

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COMMENTARY | The Atlanta Braves' 8-2 victory over the New York Mets on Wednesday holds little solace after Tim Hudson was forced to leave the game with a fractured ankle he sustained during a freak accident while covering first base.

Atlanta's unquestioned veteran leader has thrown the final pitch of his season after Mets left fielder Eric Young Jr. landed hard on the back of his right ankle while running out a ball in the eight inning. With Hudson's season over, and his career now in jeopardy, where do the Braves go from here?

The Duct Tape Crew

Despite losing Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters to season-ending Tommy John surgery, placing Paul Maholm on the disabled list with a strained left wrist, and now facing the rest of the season without Hudson, the Braves have still managed to rank No. 2 in all of baseball with a staff ERA of 3.32. Losing Hudson will be felt more by team morale and through the loss of clubhouse leadership rather than being too statistically significant.

Hudson's 3.97 ERA was second-worst on the team, behind only Maholm's 4.41. Still, Hudson was a big-game pitcher who could always be relied on to shine on the biggest stage. The Atlanta starting staff will now only average 2.4 years of MLB experience per player -- not exactly a stat the screams potential postseason success.

Starting Staff Question Marks

Although Mike Minor and Julio Teheran have jumped up to grab the No. 1 and No. 2 slots in this rotation, the backend of the starting staff is suddenly not so reliable. Before the injury to Hudson, Kris Medlen looked to be on his way out of the rotation.

"I know it's been brought up," Medlen conceded. "I said I don't want to go to the 'pen, but I didn't say I wouldn't go to the 'pen. I think there's a difference. If they think that is where I'll be most effective to help the team win, then obviously I'm going to do that."

Medlen is 3-4 with a 5.53 ERA over his last seven starts. Alex Wood and Brandon Beachy were thought to be in line to take over for Maholm and Medlen when the rotation cycles back around next week. It appears Medlen's job is safe for now, but, when Maholm is ready to return from the DL, this entire soap opera will start over again. Would Atlanta really want three left-handers in the same rotation?

Trade Deadline Looms Large

Atlanta was already rumored to be on the prowl for another reliable bullpen arm, but could it now also emerge as a contender for some of the starting pitching available on the market? The Braves could have been one of the teams interested in Chicago White Sox reliever Jesse Crain, but now they may also covet veteran right-hander Jake Peavy.

Should trading-block candidates like the Houston Astros' Bud Norris or the Milwaukee Brewers' Kyle Lohse be thought of as realistic options for Atlanta? Bolstering the starting staff could allow the Braves to keep their plan to move Medlen to the 'pen while inserting both Beachy and Wood into the rotation.

Coasting to the Finish Line Without Hudson

The Braves were so kind as to send white flags to the other teams in the division. The Mets and Miami Marlins have already waved theirs while the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals may soon look to call it a season as well. The Braves have extended their lead to eight games in the division, and it may only get easier for them the rest of the way.

Over the remaining 19 series left in the season, the Braves will only have five more meetings against teams with winning records. Furthermore, 16 of their remaining 61 games will see them pitted against the Mets or Marlins. The Braves will also get to finish the year with back-to-back series against the cellar-dwelling Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers before waving goodbye to the regular season with a four-game homestand against the Phillies.

Thanks to the weak division allowing Atlanta to high-step its way to a division crown this year, one possible avenue available could be to move to a sixth-man rotation when Maholm returns. Doing so may limit the chance of re-injury to Beachy during his start to the 2013 season. This would also allow potential postseason starters to shred some innings in preparation for a grueling October.

Here are some lemons, Fredi Gonzalez, let's see what you can make out of them.

Silver Linings

While no one should be up for celebrating any part of this victory, there were a few happier developments emerging from the contest. The most important takeaway from Hudson's injury is that he only fractured his ankle instead of completely blowing out his Achilles, as had been immediately speculated. Thanks to Hudson's fantastic pitching performance prior to the injury, Hudson picked up win No. 8 of the season, pushing his record to 8-7. Through 15 MLB campaigns, Hudson has still yet to end a season with a losing record -- something not even Greg Maddux or Tom Glavine can claim.

Spreading the good news around the diamond, Chris Johnson has officially entered MLB's batting title race after finally accumulating enough at-bats to qualify. Johnson now ranks No. 5 in the National League with a .325 average. He is .014 points off the lead held by St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina (.339).

Additionally, Dan Uggla belted home run No. 20 of the season, marking the seventh time the Braves' slugger has accomplished this feat -- only Jeff Kent has more 20+ home run seasons while playing second base. With blast No. 229 of his career, Uggla also passed Craig Biggio to move into eight place on the all-time home run list as a second basemen.

Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.

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