When Tim Hudson was traded to the Braves prior to the 2005 season, he wasn’t joining the staff to be the ace. Hudson had impressive numbers, sure — a 92-39 record and two All-Star berths in six years with Oakland — but John Smoltz was ‘The One’™. Returning from a three-year stint anchoring the Atlanta bullpen and an established team leader for more than a decade, Smoltz was unquestionably the head hurling honcho. Hudson willingly played the role of sidekick — Robin to Smoltz’ Batman.
For three full years, Hudson took the ball every fifth day, a slot or two behind Smoltz, and quietly did his job. For his part, Smoltz ably maintained the role of staff ace, even as he approached, reached, and passed the age of forty. During their three seasons together, here are the numbers compiled by Smoltz and Hudson as the Braves’ 1-2 punch:
Smoltz: 100 starts, 44-24 record, 660+ IP, 577 Ks, 3.23 ERA, 1.17 WHIP
Hudson: 98 starts, 43-31 record, 630+ IP, 388 Ks, 3.92 ERA, 1.34 WHIP
1-A and 1-B. Hudson’s been quite valuable over the past three years, but Smoltz is the straw that stirs the drink.
At least, he was. But the aging Smoltz is on the shelf right now, and the word is that when he returns, it will be to the closer’s role rather than the staff ace. With Smoltz sidelined, Hudson has had the opportunity to step out of the old man’s shadow and claim his spot at the top of the rotation, to finally become ‘The One’™. So, has Hudson stepped up?
You bet your rabbit hole he has.
Hudson’s stats from the first six weeks of the season are impressive enough. Through nine starts, he’s 6-2 with a 2.54 ERA and a 35/10 K/BB ratio. Hudson has a complete game shutout under his belt, has surrendered only one home run in 56 innings and change, and leads the Braves’ staff in starts, wins and innings pitched. But more important, Hudson has mastered the deadliest weapon in the ace’s arsenal: being the stopper.
The stopper is the guy on the pitching staff — if a team is lucky enough to have one — who can single-armedly turn the team’s fortunes around. His job is to stop a losing streak — or, put another way, to start a winning streak — and ensure that a bad game or series doesn’t spiral the team into a slump. It’s one thing to win games, but it takes a true ace to win the games that really matter, whether those contests are played in May or October, at home or away, or in daytime or under the lights. For the majority of Hudson’s tenure with the team, John Smoltz was that stopper. As of 2008, the torch has been passed. Tim Hudson is now ‘The One’.
Consider this: four of Hudson’s six wins this season have followed Braves’ losses, snapping one-game, three-game, four-game and three-game losing streaks. Two of those, including his gem in Pittsburgh on May 12th, have come on the road. Only once, against the Marlins in Florida on April 16th, has Hudson failed to win a game in which he could play the stopper. As a direct result, the Braves are the proud owners this season of a five-game and six-game winning streak (Hudson won the 5th game of each, incidentally), but have yet to suffer as many as five losses in a row. Tim ‘The One’ Hudson simply extends his pitching arm and says, ‘no‘.