Braves: Middle relief will be crucial during the first couple of weeks 

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The 60-game regular season kicked off Thursday with two marquee matchups, featuring the Yankees vs. Nationals and the Giants vs. Dodgers. However, today is the day Braves Country has been waiting for, as Opening Day has finally arrived for the Braves and the rest of the sport. 

Although with Mike Soroka set to face off against Jacob deGrom and the Mets this evening at 4:10 p.m. (ET), it’s not exactly the starting rotation… nor the Braves’ lineup that could dictate just how good a start the team has in 2020… it’s the guys handling the Braves’ middle-relief.

Here’s what Braves’ manager Brian Snitker had to say, earlier this month, about how he intends to use his starting pitching at the beginning of the season

“I think we still have to be careful about pushing them, because it is just going to be [intrasquad and scrimmages]. We’ll see when we get there. But I’d be really surprised if we weren’t in the beginning doing the piggyback [approach]. I know the urgencies [with the shorter schedule]. I’ve read all that and I’ve heard all that. With that being said, we aren’t going to push anybody we don’t feel is ready for what we have for them. We’re going to have to win under the constraints … we’re still going to have to get these guys stretched out and built up once the season starts.”

The Braves will start the year with a conventional five-man rotation, beginning today with Soroka as the no. 1, followed by Max Fried, Sean Newcomb, Mike Foltynewicz, and Kyle Wright. However, for at least the first couple of weeks, the rotation won’t operate conventionally. Snitker plans to use “piggyback” pitchers or “bridge relievers” to help keep the workload down on the starters. According to The Athletic’s Keith Law, the idea is to get 5-6 innings combined out of the starter and piggyback guy, before turning to the high-leverage type relievers. 

That means the pressure is on for the Braves’ low-leverage and multi-inning relievers — guys who can come in and pitch 2 or 3 innings on any given day, like Josh Tomlin, Touki Toussaint, and even newly-signed veteran Jhoulys Chacin. Those will be the arms expected to protect whatever gem Soroka, Fried, or any starter pitches during the first 3 or 4 innings over these first 12 games or so. And this year “12 games or so” makes up roughly 20% of the Braves’ season, so I don’t have to tell you just how vital two weeks really is. 

And in the event those three above aren’t available, additional piggyback options include lefties Grant Dayton and Tyler Matzek, as well as former closer A.J. Minter. So altogether that’s six different options Snitker will have to choose from during the early portion of the game, and how well or poorly those pitchers perform will impact how the Braves’ skipper manages his pitchers through the latter innings. 

But with the Braves’ 30-man roster released on Thursday, it appears Tomlin, Touki, and Chacin will be the three whose start to the 2020 season is most critical. Because two weeks from now, if those three guys are sporting solid numbers out of the bullpen, chances are the Braves will be in a favorable position. 

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