Their normally dominant pitching staff was surprisingly mediocre
over the first half of this season, yet the Braves are cruising
to their 12th straight division title thanks to an offense that
at week's end led the National League in hitting (.284), runs
(662) and homers (175). Here's more bad news for the rest of the
league: The starting rotation is coming around.
Greg Maddux and Mike Hampton, who were a combined 12-13 with a
4.72 ERA in the first half, were 8-0 with a 3.01 ERA since then.
With 16-game winner Russ Ortiz maintaining his consistently high
level of performance, Atlanta's frontline starting pitching is no
longer a liability.
Hampton (9-5, 4.41 ERA) credits his turnaround to better
mechanics. He took some velocity off his sinker and focused on
throwing it with more movement. After Hampton's 7-1 win over the
Brewers last Thursday--his first complete game in more than two
years--pitching coach Leo Mazzone said Hampton had thrown "the
best sinker I've ever seen."
While toiling in the worst first half (7-8, 4.63 ERA) he's had
since 1990, Maddux spent more time reviewing tape of himself and
then tweaked his mechanics. He won five straight decisions to
improve to 11-8 with a 4.24 ERA and boost his chances of becoming
the first pitcher to win 15 games in 16 straight seasons. (Cy
Young did it in 15 straight seasons.)
"It's our turn," says Hampton, "to get the breaks."