Braves: A.J. Minter may again become a crucial piece in this year’s NLCS

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For the second year in a row, the Braves are headed to the National League Championship Series. Thanks to consistent dominance from both the starting rotation and the bullpen as well as timely bursts of hitting against the Milwaulkee Brewers in the NLDS, Atlanta once again has an opportunity to win an NL Pennant and reach the World Series. Just like the previous series, it’s going to take a lot of work and maybe even some good fortune.

The saying if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it is a popular phrase for a reason. For the Braves, its gameplan/approach so far has resulted in three-straight wins and bullpen play that featured a 1.26 ERA during its recent NLDS victory. I don’t think anyone is complaining about how the Braves have played so far. I know I’m not. That said, there is something going on with the bullpen this year feels eerily similar to last year.

A.J. Minter has appeared in just one game this postseason, working 1.1 innings of Tuesday’s Game 4 NLDS win. The lefty reliever pitched fine, striking out three of the four Brewers batters he faced before Freddie Freeman belted the go-ahead homer in the eighth to put the Braves up for good. But for some reason — and remember: I am not complaining — manager Brian Snitker just hasn’t leaned on Minter lately, which, if you recall, is exactly what the Atlanta skipper did pre-LCS in 2020.

During last year’s postseason run for the Braves, it looked as if Minter would become the go-to reliever for the team as he succeeded with quite a tough assignment right from the start. In Atlanta’s Wild Card round versus Cincinnati, the southpaw was inserted into the game in the 13th inning of a tied contest. With the Reds threatening following an implosion by fellow bullpen mate Shane Greene, Minter prevailed by getting the final two outs of the frame. As we know now, Freddie won that game for us when he walked it off with an RBI single in the bottom-half of the inning. However, it was Minter that shut down the Cincy offense, who, at one point during his appearance, was just 90 feet from home.

Even with that clutch of a performance, in the NLDS that year (versus Miami) Snitker only went with Minter one time — a Game 3 appearance in which Atlanta was already up 7-0 by the time the lefty came in for the seventh inning. For whatever reason, Minter just wasn’t really part of the game plan during the Braves Division Series victory. Once the League Series against the Dodgers came around, that quickly changed. Versus LA in the 2020 NLCS, Minter worked four of the seven games, including one in which he started. In 4.1 innings worth of work overall, the Braves southpaw struck out eight Dodgers and posted a solid 4.15 ERA. He wasn’t the most-used Atlanta reliever, but he was among the top-three during that series, trailing only Tyler Matzek and Greene.

Which brings us back to this year. Will Brian Snitker do the same thing with Minter during this NLCS? I sure do hope so. I know the guy isn’t exactly what he once was as a high-leverage reliever, but the 28-year-old is currently sporting a career 1.93 ERA in 9.1 postseason innings, not to mention a ridiculous average of 15.8 strikeouts per nine. Regardless of his obvious decline as an MLB closer, the man knows how to pitch in the playoffs. So I guess we’ll see what happens. The Braves may have enough pieces in the ‘pen this year that Minter’s usage isn’t as crucial as before. Then again, perhaps this was the plan all along.

 

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