The Atlanta Braves pitching staff is in a state of disarray at the moment. Max Fried, a bright spot for Braves pitchers at the moment, pitched another great six innings last night. He gave up his first runs of the season but still had the Braves in a winning position before the bullpen gave up the lead and game before the night was over.
This comes on the heels of Sean Newcomb getting a demotion back to the minors to work on his control issues, and Atlanta Braves closer, Arodys Vizcaino was shelved after feeling some inflammation in his throwing shoulder. Losing your closer is going to hurt, but if the Braves keep blowing leads like they did last night, it’s going to be a very long season in Atlanta.
Coming into this season, the Braves bullpen looked to be the area of weakness for the team. The Braves had depth and talent in their lineup and starting staff, but the bullpen was the area of the team that was lagging behind. The problem, that the team didn’t address in the offseason, showed its ugly head last night.
The Braves used 6 different pitchers after Max Fried exited the game in the sixth inning. Chad Sobotka and Jesse Biddle squandered the initial 6-2 lead to make the game 6-6. Luke Jackson and Shane Carle were able to hold the game where it stood at 6-6. Next, A.J. Minter came into the game to hold the tie, but he surrendered 3 runs in the 9th before Jacob Webb, freshly promoted from the minors, came in to finish the game.
The bullpen is going to be an issue for the Braves all season. Likely, there isn’t going to be some savior, Craig Kimbrel, coming through the door anytime soon. Johnny Venters, who just returned to the IL, was supposed to be some relief but that hasn’t panned out. Darren O’Day isn’t coming back anytime soon.
The Braves bullpen are who they are, plus or minus some guys who may come up through the farm system. It’s the collective unit that has struggled. And until Brian Snitker can get his full squad back from all the injuries, the bullpen is going to be a work in progress.
The Braves have a chance to be special this season. The team’s offense is loaded. The starting pitching has looked better with Max Fried and Touki Toussaint performance’s, and Mike Foltynewicz coming back after one more rehab start this weekend. The main deterrent of this team’s success will be the bullpen.
The Braves will lose games they wouldn’t have otherwise because of the bullpen’s deficiencies. That is a fact, as we all saw on Tuesday night.
There are avenues that the Braves can explore. One name Braves fans love to throw around is Craig Kimbrel. Of course, we would all love to see Kimbrel striking out batters in a Braves uniform again, but that’s not the quick fix the Braves need. Even with Kimbrel, the Braves will still need someone to pitch the 7th and 8th. Sure, Vizcaino will be back sooner than later, but that’s just one person. It’s still not the solution to take this team over the top. Could Julio Teheran be an answer? The maligned starter has been toiling for the Braves in his starts. Moving him to the bullpen, wouldn’t endure the Braves to the player, but could help the team in the short-term. Teheran, who has pitched in the bullpen in the postseason last year, has the stuff to be effective in one or two inning situations. I don’t think it’s likely we will see Teheran coming out of the bullpen, but I don’t think it’s likely for the Braves to sign Kimbrel either.
What happened to the Braves last night won’t be the norm. But don’t be surprised to see these bullpen woes surface again. This is going to be an uphill battle for the Braves to overcome all season.
It’s up to the entire organization, players, coaches, and upper management, to deal with the issue. Whether that means shelling out money for some help, making roster moves on the big league squad, or simply, finding a player on the roster who can get outs on this team. The Braves, currently, have 3 guys, Chad Sobotka, Shane Carle, and A.J. Minter, who have an ERA over 9. That’s not going to cut it for a team that has contending aspirations. It’s early enough to fix the issues. Let’s just hope there is an answer out there.