Atlanta Braves pitching staff: Where in the world did this come from?

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

Before the season began, I figured the Atlanta Braves would need to score approximately 1,000 runs this season to win the division.

Through 16 games, the Braves are barely on pace to score 600. Only the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres have scored fewer runs in the National League. Yet the Braves are a half-game behind the Milwaukee Brewers for the best record in Major League Baseball, going into the weekend.

When your pitching staff is only allowing 2.5 runs per game, it’s pretty easy to win more than you lose, as the Braves have done.

Despite preseason fears about a pitching staff that lost Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery, no starting rotation has been better. With a 1.47 Earned Run Average, the starting five have allowed 17 earned runs in 16 games.

Those are totally insane numbers.

Perhaps the most reliable arm so far has been Aaron Harang. Braves fans were slightly befuddled when the team cut Freddy Garcia on March 25 and added Harang, who had just been cut by the Cleveland Indians. Garcia was good enough for a No. 5 spot in the rotation at the end of last season, and Harang seemed to be an ample replacement, but nobody knew why the Braves made the move.

We know now.

Maybe the scouts saw something with 35-year-old Harang that suggested he had plenty left in the tank and could perform better at the bottom of the rotation than Garcia, or maybe the Braves just got lucky. With a 0.70 ERA, Harang is allowing the second-fewest earned runs per nine innings in the majors. Only Mark Buehrle, with a 0.64 ERA, is better.

Harang has also carried a no-hitter into at least the seventh inning in two of his four starts so far this season, and pitched seven no-hit innings Friday night against the New York Mets. He’s doing things that are scary good when he takes the mound – things even the legends of the ’90s struggled to achieve.

Then, there’s Ervin Santana. After missing his first few starts, Santana has been outstanding in both of his outings. His ERA is actually lower than Harang’s, at 0.64, but because he has only had two starts, he doesn’t yet qualify to rank atop the Major League ERA rankings.

When all five of your starters have an ERA below 3, you’re going to have plenty of success. We just never thought the Braves would lay claim to that kind of pitching dominance this year.

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