Atlanta Braves Bullpen Still Holding this Team Back
It’s been a similar storyline for the Atlanta Braves all season long, the bullpen can’t hold onto leads and continually lets the team down.
When you look back at this 2021 season a lot of us will probably remember the major injuries, specifically for the Atlanta Braves with Ronald Acuna Jr.
But even through all the injuries, the one thing that has consistently held this team back all year has been the bullpen.
We knew it was a potential area of weakness coming into the season, it turned out it was early on and never really got better except for a hot streak surrounding the All-Star break.
And as much praise as Alex Anthopoulos gets for rebuilding the outfield at the trade deadline, he deserves just as much flack for not taking care of the bullpen.
Yes, he got Richard Rodriguez, but I think even he would admit that wasn’t enough.
They needed at least one more high-leverage arm at the backend you could trust to finish off games. Even if Craig Kimbrel wasn’t an option, they needed someone else for the 7th and 8th innings.
Braves Bullpen by the Numbers
The biggest number that instantly sticks out to me are the losses. Atlanta’s bullpen has racked up 26 losses this season, which surprisingly is only the fifth-worst.
Teams with more bullpen losses include the Arizona Diamondbacks, Miami Marlins, Texas Rangers, and Toronto Blue Jays.
The Braves bullpen ranks 18th in ERA at 4.28 and 22nd in WHIP at 1.38. They’re actually better in K/9 than I thought at 9.3, which ranks 16th.
This bullpen is not designed with a lot of flamethrowers who are going to rack up the strikeouts.
Braves Bullpen: You Can’t Trust Anyone
I was having this conversation in our Tomahawk Take group chat. When Luke Jackson came into the game on Tuesday with a lead against the Dodgers I said I was nervous.
Someone in the chat pointed out that Luke has been our best and most consistent reliever all year — and that’s true with his 2.15 ERA — but that just tells you my level of confidence with this bullpen.
I don’t trust anyone Brian Snitker calls out of there, which is why I also don’t put a lot of blame on Snitker — he’s just playing the hand he’s been dealt.
Rodriguez has maybe been the Braves’ best reliever, and he’s only been here since the All-Star break. He’s still not someone I would consider a shutdown guy with only 6 strikeouts in 14.2 innings with Atlanta, but he tends to at least get the job done with minimal stress.
Tyler Matzek has had his moments, and until the Dodgers series had probably been their best bullpen arm.
Will Smith’s metrics are really good, but he just can’t seem to get out of his own way and the home run ball has plagued him since joining Atlanta.
Those are the top four guys and I still feel uneasy whenever any of them opens the bullpen doors.
Braves Bullpen Hope Going Forward
Here is my hope for the bullpen going forward. I’ve been saying for a while that A.J. Minter is the only real closer on this roster — in terms of stuff. My hope is that he can get out of his head and be the dominant reliever we know he can be.
Sean Newcomb just got called back up and has been dominant at Triple-A and had moments of dominance in the big leagues. We need him to find that magic again.
But what I’m really hoping for, is the Braves convert Kyle Muller to the bullpen in mid-September and he becomes a huge part of that group with his dominating stuff.
Otherwise, you’re just holding your breath and hoping the best has yet to come for Jackson, Rodriguez, Matzek, and Smith.
As was proven in that Dodgers series, these arms can’t be trusted holding one-run leads against postseason teams. Twice the Braves had a lead in the 7th or later in that series and lost — that can’t happen.