The Braves' pitching staff has been amazing since the All-Star break, as their 3.12 ERA since then ranks second in the National League. Medlen likely only has one start remaining before Hanson is eligible to come off the disabled list, but they would likely love to keep riding Medlen's success. While the Braves would love to replace somebody else with Medlen, the other four starting pitchers, Tim Hudson (7-2, 3.13 ERA in last 10 starts), Ben Sheets (3-1, 1.46 ERA in four starts), Mike Minor (2-1, 1.74 ERA in last five starts) and Paul Maholm (5-2, 2.49 ERA in last 10 starts; 7 IP, 3 ER, 8 K, 2 BB in one start with Braves), have shown that there is no weak link in the Braves' rotation.
With a staple of starting pitchers at their disposal, it would be smart for the Braves to at least consider using a six-man rotation.
It wouldn't be completely out of the ordinary for the Braves to employ an innovative rotation idea, as managers are beginning to push the limits of conventional baseball wisdom. Already this year, the Colorado Rockies have experimented with a four-man rotation, while the Chicago White Sox have used a six-man rotation.
Perhaps the greatest benefit to a six-man rotation is that allows the pitchers an extra day of rest. This would be very beneficial for the Braves, as Tim Hudson is 37 years old, Ben Sheets has only thrown 35.1 professional innings over the past two years, Hanson is likely tired as his 5.73 IP/GS is the lowest in his career, and Medlen isn't fully stretched out yet.
One of the arguments against a six-man rotation is that it takes one player out of the bullpen, leaving them understaffed. However, there is no reason that the Braves bullpen should fall into that trap. The Braves currently have Cristhian Martinez, Luis Avilan and Cory Gearrin in their bullpen, along with Anthony Varvaro in the minors and Jair Jurrjens on the disabled list, who are all capable of providing more than one inning of relief. If one of the starters struggles, all of those five are capable of offsetting any pitching problems. At the back-end of the bullpen, the Braves have Eric O'Flaherty, Chad Durbin, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel, who have been absolutely dominant in recent weeks. This season, the Braves are 51-1 when leading after six innings.
As the Braves find themselves only three games back of the Washington Nationals, it wouldn't be surprising if manager Fredi Gonzalez sticks with what has got him to this point. However, if the Braves are going to rely on their veteran pitchers for a deep playoff run, it might be best for them to rest those players down the stretch.