The back of the Braves bullpen has been a glaring weakness but as the pennant race heats up, the bullpen is finally turning into an asset.
On Tuesday night, the Atlanta Braves extended their lead in the N.L. East to six games with a 5-1 win over the cellar-dwelling Miami Marlins. Veteran lefty Dallas Keuchel was nothing short of ace-like over the first six frames for Atlanta, bringing his record to 2-1 with an excellent 2.29 ERA in six starts on his home mound this season. More importantly, however, were the three spotless innings that the Braves bullpen posted in relief of Keuchel.
The Braves have rolled off three straight victories, and their bullpen, which appeared to be the team’s only glaring weakness as recently as this past Friday, has been a total revelation. During this streak, the Atlanta relievers have surrendered only one run alongside a 0.53 WHIP and 14 strikeouts across 11.1 innings.
Granted, this is a small sample, but given the maddening struggles the group had endured, especially from Luke Jackson who has seven blown saves, the team and fanbase have plenty of reason to be encouraged. The turnaround has also been incredibly sudden, as the pen’s most recent debacle came last Friday when it blew the save after coughing up five earned runs on four hits, three of which left the yard, over 2.1 frames in an 8-3 loss to the Dodgers.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos went to work addressing the Braves bullpen woes prior to the July trade deadline, acquiring right-handed relievers Mark Melancon, Shane Greene and Chris Martin in three separate trades. Until this current stretch, the results from those three additions had been scattershot at best with Greene, a 2019 All-Star, probably the most disappointing.
During the last three games, the trio of Melancon, Martin, and Greene have been tremendous, combining for seven scoreless innings. Melancon, the most experienced of the group and owner of 186 career saves, has claimed the closer role for himself, as he’s slammed the door on three wins for the Braves over the past week, including spotless saves on Saturday and Sunday versus the Dodgers.
Regarding his club’s late-inning relievers following Saturday’s win, Braves manager Brian Snitker told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution they’re settling in to what we expected.”
If this recent trend of bullpen dominance is something that becomes a permanent pattern, the rest of the National League better be on notice. The 75-52 Braves are a complete team and legitimate contender to claim a pennant, and perhaps more.