One way to remember 2008 is as the season that Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Charlie Morton all pitched for the Braves. That is about all it should be remembered for. The Braves had their worst season of the decade, finishing at 72 – 90, good for 4th place in the NL East, 20 games back of the 1st place Phillies.
A 17 – 12 May left the Braves 2 games over .500, but a 6 game losing streak in early June dropped them below .500 for good. Amusingly, even with 90 losses, they still finished 12.5 games ahead of the last place Nationals. This at least contributed to making the ’00’s the team’s only full decade in divisional play without a last place finish.
The offensive highlight was 36 year old Chipper Jones leading the NL in batting average, at .364, and adding 22 homers. 24 year old Brian McCann led the team in homers with 23, and added a .301 batting average, and 24 year old Martin Prado hit .320 in 78 games playing all the infield positions, plus some left field.
This was the first season as GM for Frank Wren, who was promoted after the 2007 season. Notable June draft picks included Craig Kimbrel in the 3rd round, J.J. Hoover in the 10th round, and Anthony Rendon in the 27th. The Braves managed to sign only 2 of those 3.
On July 29th the Braves traded Mark Teixeira to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, receiving Stephen Marek (minors) and Casey Kotchman. This is significant mainly in that it meant in 2008 two major league teams thought Casey Kotchman was a major league first baseman. Kotchman, in his prime a poor man’s Mark Grace, played 10 years in the major leagues as a 1st baseman and designated hitter, with a career batting average of .260 and 71 home runs. Teixeira’s 33 homers in 2008 were about 46% of Kotchman’s 10 year total.
On the pitching side, Tim Hudson started 22 games, and put up a 3.17 ERA before undergoing a season ending elbow surgery that may have influenced the decision to trade Teixeira. Jair Jurrjens led the team in starts with 31, and wins with 13. It took him 188 1/3 innings to do it, but he also led the team in strikeouts with 139. Mike Gonzalez led the team in saves with 14.
2008 marked the final Braves seasons for Glavine and Smoltz. For Glavine, it was a return to the Braves after 5 seasons with the Mets. Shoulder issues limited the 42 year old to 13 starts, where he put up a 5.54 ERA. He underwent surgery after the season, and was released without making it back to the majors.
For the 41 year old Smoltz, 2008 was a prelude to leaving, with him spending one final season in 2009 split between Boston and St. Louis. Smoltz got 5 starts in 2008, putting up a 2.54 ERA and striking out 36 in 28 innings, before going on the DL with a shoulder issue on April 28th. Among the strikeouts was the 3000th of his career, coming on April 22nd. John came back in June to make a relief appearance, then underwent season ending shoulder surgery.
In other baseball news, Albert Pujols was named 2008 NL MVP, and Tim Lincecum won the NL Cy Young award. The Phillies went on to win the World Series over the Rays, 12 years before Braves rookie Morton helped the Rays to their 2nd AL Championship.