Unfortunately, there is no good rhyme for “Smoltz, Hudson, and pray for _____”. “Lightning bolts” really doesn’t work. At any event, for much of the year — especially after Chuck James got hurt and was first ineffective and then absent — that was basically the Braves’ situation. Smoltz had 26 quality starts this season, Hudson 25. James had 11; nobody else had more than six, and the various flotsam that floated through the back of the rotation totalled 19 in all. That’s a pretty accurate statement about the state of the Braves’ rotation: two aces, one decent guy, and a load of crap. Hudson and Smoltz both topped 200 innings; James threw 161; the next guy was Carlyle with 104 (as a starter).

While it would be nice if James came up with another pitch, what the Braves are getting from him is serviceable in the third spot (actually, it would be better if he pitched between Smoltz and Hudson) and would be excellent in the fourth. He’s not a workhorse, largely because he has trouble finishing batters off, but there should be a role in the rotation for him.

Of the incumbents, Jo-Jo Reyes did his best Horacio imitation, walking more than he struck out while giving up homers at nearly the same rate as James. He’s promising but needs more seasoning. Buddy Carlyle and Jeff Bennett are already sufficiently seasoned, and neither is more than a fifth starter. There is no amount of seasoning sufficient to cover up the stink of Lance Cormier. There’s also Mike Hampton, but come on.

So, since Reyes is the most advanced prospect around and he isn’t ready yet, the Braves will have to look outside the organization for a pitcher to shore up the middle of the rotation. The most prevalent suspect is Tom Glavine, of course. Glavine won’t be back with the Mets after his scapegoating, and while there’s been some talk of the Natspos it seems likely that if he pitches in 2008 it will be in a Braves uniform. I have no idea what his thought processes are, of course.

I should point out that Glavine was no more than an average pitcher in 2007. Now, what the Braves needed was an average pitcher who could give them a chance to win more often than not. However, realize that his 4.45 ERA was higher than Chuck James’, despite pitching in a friendlier ballpark, that he struck out only 89 men in 200 1/3 innings (well below the 4.5 K/9 dividing line below which most pitchers can’t be effective, and a big drop from 2006) and that he is 41 years old and will turn 42 in April.

Tom Glavine leads, necessarily, to Greg Maddux, who turns 42 three days earlier. Maddux was a slightly above-average starter in 2007. He’s just above the 4.5 K/9 line (104 in 198 innings) and got a huge break from his park, which cut down the home runs that have plagued him since he left Atlanta. His ERA was a run lower in San Diego than on the road (acknowledging that a lot of his road games were in Colorado or Arizona). And he seems to prefer to stay on the West Coast.

The free agent pool is very shallow this year, and the better free agent pitchers are going to get bid up. It seems more likely (if Glavine doesn’t come back) that the Braves will try to make a move in trade, which has always been Schuerholz’s preferred method anyway. There’s always talk of Javier Vazquez, of course. There’s some pie-in-the-sky thoughts of Dan Haren; it seems more likely that the A’s will trade Joe Blanton, which seems more reasonable.

To be honest, I expect Schuerholz will pull off something totally unexpected. It’s his style. Hopefully, this one won’t be another Hampton.