The Braves bats have finally woken up the past two games against the Nationals; however, the bullpen hasn’t done them any favors. Yesterday, A.J. Minter blew the lead, sending the game to the ninth tied, and Will Smith failed to record an out before Juan Soto delivered a walk-off single.
Atlanta ran into similar problems in Game 1 of their doubleheader today too. Josh Tomlin, Nate Jones, and A.J. Minter were able to pick up Max Fried, tossing four perfect innings and turning it over to Will Smith for the save in a two-run game. But once again, Smith struggled to shut the door.
Juan Soto walked to begin the inning, followed by a Ryan Zimmerman strikeout. However, Starlin Castro cut the lead to one with a double, and the Nationals put on the go-ahead run with a walk. Fortunately, the baseball gods were on the Braves side in this one, as a hard-hit ball right to Smith resulted in a game-ending double-play and Atlanta’s first win of the season.
Still, it goes without saying that Will Smith isn’t exactly inspiring confidence as the Braves closer, looking a lot like the guy who struggled throughout the shortened 2020 campaign. It’s probably too early to move him out of ninth-inning duties now, but it may not be long if he doesn’t tighten up and begin to look like the man who Anthopoulos paid $40 million for over three years.
Meanwhile, the guy who Anthopoulos decided to let walk in free agency this winter for a meager $3 million has been lights out for his new team. Mark Melancon elected to head back out west, joining the Padres on a one-year deal, and they’ve elected to keep him in the closer’s role. So far, he’s 3/3 in save opportunities, allowing just one hit and no runs.
I’ll be the first to admit — I wasn’t too worried about losing Melancon. His FIP was much higher than his ERA, suggesting regression was in line, and I figured it was just a matter of time before he fell off a cliff. However, for just a measly $3 million on a one-year pact, it will be a tough pill to swallow if he keeps pitching like this for the Padres, especially if the Braves continue to struggle closing games. It’s a small sample size, but it’s definitely worth monitoring since Alex Anthopoulos elected to let three of his best relievers walk without bringing in any notable free agents to replace them.