Far be it from me to be melodramatic, but last week might have saved the Hawks' season. After a 1-8 start to the second half, the team eked out three wins over Washington, Memphis, and Minnesota to halt their collapse. 35 wins, which was my goal for the season, is still attainable, although it will require an 10-8 finish and this club has shown an ability to tread water, but not much of an ability to get over .500 for an extended stretch. The interesting aspect of the three-game winning streak is that the Hawks accomplished it with Joe Johnson on the sidelines, which clearly indicates that the team had grown stagnant and dependent on its star player. While some have said that the Hawks' winning streak is a bad thing because it damages their lottery position, that claim doesn't really ring true to me because this team has plenty of young talent and it's more important at this stage that they learn how to win and play with one another. Durant or Oden sure wouldn't hurt and the winning streak only marginally decreases the chances of the Hawks landing one of them. The team is four and a half games out of a playoff spot, but they're also six games out of last place in the East. After 64 games, the Hawks are probably where they're going to end up. Whether they play well in the final 18 games will determine the future of Mike Woodson and possibly Billy Knight. OK, that and a law clerk for the Maryland Court of Appeals.
En Fuego! The team is 6-1 since acquiring Zhitnik and Tkachuk and there is a decent case for causation here outside of the usual platitudes of "Waddell showed the team that he cares" (although there might be something to that). Zhitnik has eight assists and is +7 since coming over, while Tkachuk has four goals and is +7. Add in Eric Belanger's 11 points and +1 in his 13 games since joining the team and you have good evidence that Waddell's efforts to improve the team's depth have been successful. Interestingly, the one area in which Tkachuk and Zhitnik were supposed to provide the greatest impact - the power play - has not been affected substantially, as the team is only 6/34 on the power play (17.6%) since the trades. That said, we do have sample size issues here, so insert customary caveats about how we would know more if Zhitnik and Tkachuk had been with the team for 5,000 games.
Mike Hampton is hurt again and Chipper injured his ankle yesterday, although the latter injury is relatively meaningless. I put almost no stock in spring stats, at least until the end of spring when there is a month's worth of data and the teams are playing a little harder by late March. I just want the team to be healthy when they emerge from the Magic Kingdom and Hampton's injury is problematic. I would be more excited about Mark Redman if Leo Mazzone was still rocking in the dugout, but he's a decent option for the fourth or fifth starter spot, especially since I don't have much faith in Kyle Davies based on what I've seen from him so far. The Braves' rotation doesn't look much better than it did last year, but then again, the Mets' rotation looks worse. Speaking of which, I found this snippet ($) from the Baseball Prospectus to be interesting:
Consider that 2006 Mets starters threw the third-fewest innings in the National League. If you think it’s counter-intuitive for a good team to be among the leaders in relief innings pitched, you’re right. Looking at innings pitched by starters over the past five seasons (2002-2006), the top 10 National League teams in that category averaged a 92-70 record, while the bottom 10 averaged 74-88. (For comparison, the 10 teams clustered around the average of 951 innings were right in between with their average won-loss as well, going 83-79.)
Much as we all fetishize the 1990 Reds and imagine that Gonzalez, Soriano, and Wickman can be our Nasty Boys (just like Texas fans are probably fetishizing Danny and the Miracles right now), good teams tend to have starting pitchers who shoulder most of the pitching load. The Braves' rotation, after Smoltz, is a series of question marks and the margin for error is going to be lower this year because of presumed offensive decreases from the first and second base spots.