One of the franchise’s mainstays during the Frank Wren era — the 2008 season, Wren’s first as acting GM, is the only campaign in which Braves relievers posted a sub-3.0 wins above replacement since he took over — Atlanta’s bullpen is having trouble closing out games lately. Or, at the very least, it is not keeping up with the lofty standards it’s set for itself.
Over the past two weeks, the Braves rank third-worst in bullpen ERA (6.03) and bullpen WAR (minus-0.4). That’s far removed from the shutting down opponents to the tune of the best ERA in baseball a season ago. They’ve blown four saves over that stretch, including Saturday night’s double-dip loss where both Craig Kimbrel and Anthony Varvaro could not hold onto late leads.
The team’s record during this slump? 4-8.
Of course, two weeks is a limited slice of a 162-game slate, but there are some concerns. With Jonny Venters and Jordan Walden still out of contention for bullpen spots (rehabbing injuries), lefty specialist Luis Avilan has not been able to come close to his rookie numbers while would-be southpaw starter Alex Wood has found it difficult to replicate his early-season success in a relief role. Wood’s ERA as a reliever is 4.70 right now — it was sitting right at 3.00 in the rotation.
As for the righties, David Carpenter, the team’s usual eighth-inning arm, has had a bit of misfortune (.413 opponents’ batting average on balls in play this season), but he’s allowing runs at a much higher rate. Varvaro enjoyed one of the best starts of anyone on the pitching staff early on, but his strikeout rate has dipped, as has his effectiveness. Another converted starter, David Hale, is issuing more walks than strikeouts, though his ERA (somewhat fortunately) remains one of the team’s best.
Kimbrel and rookie Shae Simmons remain bright spots, but rediscovering success at the back end of games will certainly be a priority as the team heads to the offense-friendly altitude of Coors Field. So what are some of the problems facing the relievers and what are some potential solutions? Is simply "getting healthy" the antidote? Is it only a matter of time before this group gets back on track? Our writers discuss that, Kimbrel’s franchise saves record and more: