Thanks to the carry-over from 2020, many expected the Braves to roster one of the top bullpens in baseball this year. With Chris Martin, AJ Minter and Will Smith projected to hold down the late-innings, and what appeared to be a decent amount of depth, preserving leads was thought to be strength for Atlanta in 2021.
However, that’s not exactly what happened… at least for the first few months.
By the middle of June, not only was the bullpen underachieving, but it appeared to be in the process of spoiling the team’s season, which later triggered this cry for help from Fansided’s Mark Powell back on June 20. In that post, Powell relayed a pretty sad factoid for the Braves up to that point:
“Per Elias, as reported by Buster Olney, Atlanta did not lose a game last season in which it held a lead at any point in the seventh inning or later, going 35–0. The Braves have lost nine games this year after they were ahead in the seventh inning or later, most in the NL.”
Although the post by Powell wasn’t the only display of concern among Braves Country at the time (hell, I wrote a similar piece here back in May), the article really didn’t age well. Because a lot of the Braves bullpen issues first stemmed from inconsistencies among the starting rotation, once the Atlanta starting staff regressed back to the mean, the relief core followed suit, and in turn… an improvement. Here’s a simple visual…
As you see in the table above, the difference in the Braves first half and second half, in terms of bullpen play, is pretty drastic. In fact, Atlanta relievers allowed nearly 1.5 runs less in ERA during the final three months of the regular season as opposed to the first three. Call it a mid-season turnaround or whatever you want, starting with the month of July, the Braves simply quit giving up games during the late-innings.
And now that bullpen dominance seems to be carrying on into the postseason, which is pretty damn fun to watch. After carrying the third-lowest ERA (2.90) in the majors during the September/October months of the regular season, Atlanta’s bullpen hadn’t allowed a single run during the first three games of the NLDS versus Milwaukee. I mean… nothing!
|Game 1||2 IP, 2 H, BB, K|
|Game 2||3 IP, 3 H, 3 BB, 5 K|
|Game 3||4 IP, 2 H, BB, 3 K|
|Total||9 IP, 7 H, 5 BB, 9 K|
It makes for perhaps less exciting playoff baseball (as well as less stressful), but the Braves bullpen dominance has allowed the team to skate by Milwaukee, earning a second consecutive trip to the NLCS. I don’t think I have to tell you that, if this were the Atlanta bullpen of May or June, the NLDS would have looked much different.