The Atlanta Braves aren’t scoring enough runs. That’s the reality of the situation.
The team is second to last in overall scoring in Major League Baseball, and if runs were water, the Braves would never be allowed to leave the Arizona desert. Worse than that, though, is that when the Braves have actually scored runs this week, they’ve lost several of those games. Given that the team had two days off during this past week, the Braves have gone 1-4 in the stretch after Sunday’s excruciating defeat. That is especially pitiful given they were playing Seattle and Arizona, two teams that are third or worse in their divisions. The Braves scored 3+ runs in 4 of those games, but only managed one win. So, while we all know the Braves need to score more, the pitching and bullpen really let them down this week.
The Atlanta pitching staff has the second best ERA in the majors with a 2.96, but the bullpen has started a rather untimely slide to a more lukewarm 3.22 on the season. That’s only 10th in the majors. While not terrible, one of the strengths that kept Atlanta in the division lead in 2013 was their solid bullpen. In fact, the 2013 Braves finished #1 in bullpen ERA for the season on their way to the NL East crown. A month ago, you would have seen similar numbers out of the Atlanta pen, but a rash of terrible games, including two blown saves on Saturday night in one game and Sunday’s collapse with a 6-run inning, have raised some questions about the Atlanta Bullpen’s ability to close out games.
I start with Craig Kimbrel. While Craig did set a new record for Braves franchise saves on Friday, I’m seriously questioning how Kimbrel looks on the mound this year. One thing really bothers me, and it’s that Craig is not getting 1-2-3 saves very often. In fact, he’s walking people far too often for my tastes, which is my biggest issue. Craig has appeared in 24 games so far in this 2014 season, and he already has 10 walks. To give you an idea of how that stacks up to last year, Craig only walked 20 batters in 68 appearances. That means he’s halfway to last year’s total, but he’s pitched 10 fewer games to get there. In short, Kimbrel has been wild and that’s not ideal for a closer.
As a result, Kimbrel’s WHIP is an issue. A good WHIP for a normal pitcher is around 1.00, but a good WHIP for a closer should be much less than that. Closers shouldn’t let people reach base in the ideal scenario. That’s why when I look at Craig’s WHIP in 2014, it’s 1.01. In 2013, he finished with a 0.86 WHIP, and in 2012 he finished with a 0.56 WHIP. Granted those are best in the major’s numbers, but it also shows that Craig is sliding back to 2011 form. He was good then, with 46 saves, a 2.00 ERA, and a 1.04 WHIP. However, he wasn’t the dominant force the Braves needed, and he blew 8 saves that year. Craig’s already blown 3 save this year, as many as he blew in the entirety of 2012.
Am I concerned Craig is a liability? Absolutely not, he’s still a great closer. However, I’m concerned that Craig isn’t Craig right now, and when the Braves are so low in the hitting totals they can’t afford to blow easy games against bad teams. The other concern is that several of the Atlanta bullpen members have ERA’s over 4.00. David Carpenter, Luis Avilan, and Alex Wood have all been roughed up badly over the last month, showing a very large weakness in the bullpen order. It got so bad that the Braves were forced to bring up Shea Simmons to save the day. Shea has done great so far with a 0.00 ERA and a save, but the loss of Jordan Walden has never been so apparent. Who would have thought the guy with that ridiculous crow-hopping delivery would be so important?
On the offensive side, the Braves are hitting a combined team .680 in OPS. They sit at 25th in the MLB between St. Louis and Cincinnati in that category. One thing I noted with our editor Carlos about this stat is that nobody has made the playoffs with an OPS below .700 since they added the extra Wild Card. You’d think with more chances, this would be more likely. Carlos Collazo also pointed out that OPS is falling all across the league. Teams simply can’t hit right now. I wonder why? Couldn’t be that all those testing measures are finally getting most of the steroids out of baseball? It’s not that I trust that baseball is doing a better job, it’s just that I don’t see guys with Pinata-sized heads mashing balls 500 feet into the stands on a regular basis anymore.
Whatever the cause, Atlanta’s OPS is falling, and the Braves are their own worst enemy at the plate. Not only are they have issues in slugging percentage or getting on base at a decent clip, they are also 23rd in hitting with runners in scoring position with a .232 average. It’s hard to score when the team isn’t hitting timely or hitting for power. The Braves are built on the ability to hit the long ball, but it’s not coming nearly enough. I don’t believe this can continue if the Braves hope to win the division, simply because I see the writing on the wall with the pitching staff. Guys are starting to labor, faults are starting to show up, and you can see the frustration at the lack of support really getting to the starters.
The only starter who seems completely unflappable is Julio Teheran. The rest? They’ve all had moments where you question who is going to be the first one yanked out of the rotation. Because I don’t believe for a second that this rotation holds all season long. If you think Aaron Harang can hold up for an entire season with an ERA under 3.50, I have a lovely unicorn farm to sell you. Also, Santana’s ERA has exploded to over 4.00 on the year before he faced the Diamondbacks on Saturday. He dominated Arizona with a 6 inning 1-run performance, but the Braves still lost. I’m mostly concerned about Santana’s WHIP which is up to 1.26 and climbing.
The good news out of all this is, as I’ve said before in prior Magic Numbers posts, June is set up for the Braves to really make hay. This coming week is going to be the hardest as they face the Rockies and Angels. If the Braves can weather that storm with a 3-4 record at worst? I’d call that a huge win and get ready for weeks and weeks of teams with .500 or worse records. So batten down the hatches Braves fan, as this next week will be a bumpy ride. However, there’s sandy beaches and drinks with little hats on the other side. I’ll be the guy in the Hawaiian shirt saying you I told you so at the end of June.