Three Cuts: Braves' 40-man challenges just beginning; bullpen improved with Arodys Vizcaino at closer
Despite the splashes the White Sox have made in the trade market, the Braves still boast the game's best farm system in 'Baseball America's' updated rankings.
That's because of the depth of Atlanta's system, a luxury that's going to mean difficult decisions in terms of who they opt to bubble up to the 40-man roster.
The seeds of those moves were planted with the Braves' latest trade as we dive into the week that was -- and a tough road trip to Colorado that's ahead -- for Atlanta.
1. Braves' latest move underscores 40-man challenges that await
Left-hander Andrew Albers had rejuvenated his career this summer at Triple-A Gwinnett, posting a 2.61 ERA that was third in the International League. He's also in the top seven in strikeouts (115) and WHIP (1.15).
So, why did the Braves trade Albers to the Mariners on Friday night for cash considerations instead of bringing him up to a pitching staff that's 29th with a collective 4.1 WAR and has a 4.70 ERA (23rd)?
John Coppolella and Co. simply have got a case of the 40-man problems.
Albers had been dominant, but he's also 31 and the Braves didn't have room for him, and creating room this late in the season would have of include either releasing another player, transferring another to the 60-day disabled list or designating for assignment a player who might be part of Atlanta's long-term plans. That would then mean opening them up to be claimed by another team.
Is that a worthwhile endeavor for a squad that's 18 games out of the National League East and 13 behind in the Wild Card race? In the case of Albers, whose track record includes a 4.41 ERA in 17 MLB games across three seasons with the Blue Jays and Twins, the answer was clearly no.
He simply didn't fit Atlanta's plans, and Coppolella was able to find a team in need in the Mariners -- who are down two starters in James Paxton (pectoral injury) and Felix Hernandez (shoulder bursitis) -- to give them value for a player that wasn't likely to get a shot for the Braves in the majors.
The fact of the matter is weighing the short-term benefits of finding room for Albers is nothing compared to the 40-man decisions that are to come with December's Rule 5 Draft looming.
Among those currently not on the roster that could be plucked by another team include 21-year-old left-hander Luiz Gohara -- 2.77 ERA with 117 strikeouts and 37 walks in 104 innings -- Travis Demeritte -- the infielder, 22, is slashing .216/.295/.398 with 15 home runs -- outfielder Dustin Peterson -- also 22, he's hitting .265/.332/.343 -- and Ricardo Sanchez, a 20-year-old lefty with a 4.98 ERA.
Righties Enrique Burgos and Armando Rivero would seem vulnerable when it comes to clearing space for them. The Braves have Jacob Lindgren and Dan Winkler on the 60-day DL, meaning they aren't eating up 40-man spots, but what machinations will they pull to attempt to keep them? What about struggling arms like Ian Krol (5.75 ERA), Jason Motte (3.68) or Mauricio Cabrera, who has a 6.82 ERA and 35 walks to 26 Ks in the minors?
The balancing act of protecting the future and keeping tangible pieces is about to make the guessing game over who the Braves leave dangling figures to be riveting.
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2. For Atlanta bullpen, change has been a good thing
Despite Jim Johnson and Sam Freeman running into trouble in the eighth inning in Sunday's 6-3 win over the Cardinals, the Braves bullpen has been on a roll.
Since July 30, when Arodys Vizcaino moved into the close role, Atlanta relievers have not given up a lead. That's included four saves via his right arm and three holds, and in all they've allowed 12 earned runs over 42 innings.
The last two weeks, Atlanta's has been a top-5 bullpen in the National League with a collective 0.2 WAR and they've had the circuit's best batting average against (.192).
Vizcaino has been strong in sliding into the role vacated by Johnson, who aside from giving up a solo home run and two more hits vs. the Cardinals, has looked stronger in six appearances pitching in the seventh (twice) and eighth (four times) innings. But Luke Jackson has provided the most eye-opening stat line of late.
He has a 12.71 K/9 over 5 2/3 innings in the last six games, pumped up by fanning six of the seven batters he faced in 2 1/3 in Friday's 8-5 loss in St. Louis. That was the most Ks via an Atlanta reliever since Cristhian Martinez also had six in 2001.
Jackson, who entered Friday with 21 strikeouts on the year, has clearly settled.
After posting a 3.97 ERA before July 30 and 4.31 in 25 games before that date, he has allowed more than a hit just once and walked one batter over his last six appearances.
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3. Julio Teheran's road success to be tested in Denver
Julio Teheran's road/home splits have been a season-long talking point. As a reminder, away from SunTrust Park he's holding a 3.57 ERA that's 26th among all starters compared to a 7.07 in Atlanta that's the worst among qualified arms.
Of late, that narrative has taken a hit (more on that soon), but overall it's about to be tested Monday night, with Teheran scheduled to open Atlanta's series against the Rockies, who are currently four games up for the second Wild-Card spot.
The Braves haven't won in Denver since June 10, 2014, dropping 10 straight in which they were outscored 68-25 -- and for their right-hander, it's been the location of two forgettable starts.
The last time Teheran threw in Coors Field, July 22, 2016, he left in the fifth inning with lat tightness, an injury would put him on the disabled list. Before that, he was tagged for seven earned runs on 10 hits in 6 1/2 in an 8-2 loss June 11, 2014. The righty has allowed more earned runs in just four games over his 153 career starts.
To be fair, he did pitch in the snow in Denver in 2013, giving up just one earned run over seven innings and current Rockies are hitting just .184/.222/.311 against him -- that includes three strikeouts of Nolan Arenado and DJ LeMahieu -- though Charlie Blackmon is at .294/.294/.529 and Jonathan Lucroy has a 364/.462/.545 line.
But of late there's reason for concern where Teheran has been at his best. He gave up eight earned vs. the Phillies in his last road start and has a 5.60 EA his last seven away games.