Atlanta Braves bullpen doesn’t let turnover shake dominance
The modern bullpen is constructed from the back forward, and there is no greater practitioner of pitching a baseball in the ninth inning than Craig Kimbrel, a small-statured (5-foot-11), baby-faced (25 years old) righthander who mixes a 98-mile-per-hour fastball and a sharp-turning slider to such devastating effect that he inspires respect that belies his roster listing.
“When you talk about the end of the game and you’ve got Mr. Kimbrel down there,” Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell said, “it’s usually a good feeling.”
Kimbrel has now topped 40 saves in each of his three full seasons with preposterous efficiency — consecutive ERAs of 2.10, 1.01 and 1.03 as well as a combined strikeout rate of 15 per nine innings — to give an overwhelming sense of security any time Atlanta holds a lead after eight innings.
While Kimbrel has become as reliable and dominant as any closer in baseball, what’s been most remarkable about the 2013 Braves has been the effectiveness of the changing parts in front of him even after losing two of the game’s best setup men, Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty, for the season.
“Those two were top-flight lefthanders in the entire game, and when you lose two guys like that early in the year, you’re not sure that you have enough pieces to be able to overcome that,” Atlanta general manager Frank Wren said. “It’s a credit to our guys that they’ve stepped up and picked right up where they’ve left off.”
Cleveland at Atlanta: Series Preview
The Cleveland Indians continued their improbable run for a playoff spot over the weekend. To extend their surge, they’ll have to win in the toughest stadium for opponents in the major leagues.
The Atlanta Braves, however, haven’t been at their best since Jason Heyward was lost to a broken jaw, and they’ll be looking to put a rough stretch behind them when these teams open a three-game series at Turner Field on Tuesday night.
Cleveland (71-59) beat Minnesota 3-1 on Sunday for its fifth win in six games and ninth in 13 since a six-game skid that seemed to signal the end of its playoff hopes. The Indians committed four errors and made several other mistakes in the field and on the bases, but Drew Stubbs hit a tiebreaking two-out homer in the eighth inning.
“We were trying every way we could to give it away,” Stubbs said. “We played a very sloppy game, but it says a lot about this team that we were able to hang in there and pull out the win.”
Locked in a tight battle for a wild-card spot and within striking distance of the AL Central lead, Cleveland hasn’t been fazed by this road-heavy stretch in which it plays 15 of 18 away from home, going 6-3 in road games so far.
Should the Braves be worried?
They did drop another spot in the ESPN Power Rankings, back to the No. 3 spot, but there is little reason for concern at this point as far as their playoff hopes are concerned. However, some recent injuries reveal a team that could be very vulnerable come October.
According to Coolstandings.com, the Braves have had a 99.9 percent chance of reaching the postseason since Aug. 4, and their mini-slump this week has not affected their odds one iota. Not only have they been the best team in baseball but their competition has been lacking. There is no other team in the National League East above .500, and, at 65-65, the Nationals have just a 4.1 percent chance to reach the postseason, which is easily the lowest percentage for a team currently in second place in its division. With a whole week of August still to go, we are already talking about Atlanta’s magic number.
The problem for the Braves is that the team that built that lead is not the same one that is taking the field right now. In fact, Fangraphs projects them to be just a .500 team the rest of the way, good for the 12th-best record in baseball. This is mildly alarming, but not for the reason you might think.
Atlanta Braves Starter Kris Medlen Wrong for Public Show of Frustration
After being pulled in the seventh inning of Friday’s 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, starting pitcher Kris Medlen chose to air his frustration for managerFredi Gonzalez” href=”http://www.sportsmedia101.com/atlantabraves/tag/fredi-gonzalez/” rel=”tag nofollow”>Fredi Gonzalez‘s move publicly, a distasteful move that is uncommon for members of the Atlanta Braves team.
He was quoted by MLB.com after the game.
” I got taken out with 78 pitches,” Medlen said Friday night. “I was just starting to have to battle. I didn’t have to battle yet. But I wasn’t given the opportunity. I guess I’m voicing the fact that I didn’t appreciate that. I don’t know what kind of mentality we’re trying to create for our starters. But I feel like I should be able to work out of some jams.”
In fairness, Medlen did apologize to Gonzalez and neither man will comment on the incident any further. He elaborated briefly after the incident to Mark Bowman of MLB.com.
“Obviously I wanted to stay in the game. There is something wrong with you if you don’t want to stay in the game, whatever the situation is. But I was in a situation where I didn’t have much leeway.”
Atlanta fans want Medlen to stay in the game too. Let’s hope that all is well in Braves country so they can concentrate on healing and securing their spot in the playoffs.