The Braves are the hottest team in baseball, winners of 14 of their last 16, extending their lead in the NL East to seven games. They are entering a stretch where their next 14 games are against the Nationals and Phillies – two teams jockeying to get into the playoffs. There’s a chance after these next four series the division will be clinched, and they have their most recent streak of excellence to thank for that. But unlike their hot stretches in the past, this one has been led by an unexpected unit.
I wrote a few weeks ago about how the Braves bullpen was about to become a weapon for this team as the season concludes. The comments I received on the blog, social media, and various other networks were unison laughs. I was essentially mocked. But I do this to give my honest opinions, and I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t make me feel a little giddy when things work out exactly as I envisioned them.
Over their past sixteen games, the Braves have only scored more than five runs six times. The bats have been quiet in stretches, but Atlanta’s been able to thrive because their bullpen has been lights out in tight situations. They’ve won eight games by three runs or less, and five one-run games.
As expected, Atlanta’s new additions finally settled down and adjusted to their roles. Chris Martin has only allowed two earned runs in his last 7.2 innings. Shane Greene looks like an All-Star again. He hasn’t allowed a run in his last 11 appearances, striking out 11 of the 37 batters he’s faced, and opponents are only hitting .111 off of him in that span. Most importantly, Mark Melancon has established himself as the right man to shut the door. He’s only surrendered one run in his last eight appearances, picking up seven saves and a win.
Those aren’t the only arms contributing, however. Part of the reason I was so high on the bullpen despite their struggles following the trade deadline is because of the outstanding depth. Luke Jackson can enter the game in the fifth in a critical situation instead of having to close ball games. He’s blossomed in his new role, recording a 2.35 ERA since August 1st in 15.1 innings pitched. Sean Newcomb is another weapon that can be used in several high-leverage situations. Although he hasn’t adjusted to his new role as of yet, that’s just another reason why this group could be even better going forward. Even Jerry Blevins has been a maestro against left-handed hitters when called upon.
Collectively, from August 17th to September 2nd, the Braves had a bullpen ERA of 2.16, which is the best in the National League. Bryse Wilson inflated that a tiny bit by allowing two runs against Toronto a couple of nights ago, but he is not in the plans for Atlanta’s postseason run. This is now a weapon for the Braves, and as I said in the article a few weeks ago, this may be their most substantial advantage over the rest of the teams in the National League. Outside of the Cardinals – the Dodgers, Nationals, and Cubs have all been searching for consistent relief efforts but to no avail. The Braves have found the formula, and it’s going to be vital to clinching the division and into October.