The Braves have won 205 regular season games over the last two seasons and feature arguably the most talented roster in baseball. Despite that, they haven’t been able to make it out of the divisional round. Changes need to be made to their approach if they want to get back to the World Series, and one blueprint that everybody should be following is that of the Houston Astros.
The defending champions have made it to a remarkable seven straight American League Championship Series. They’ve won two World Series over that time and are one win away from their fifth trip to the Fall Classic over the last seven seasons. We are in the midst of one of the more unprecedented dynasties in the sport, and they’ve been able to maintain this success despite several star players leaving in free agency.
Replicating the Astros postseason experience is impossible, but when looking at how they’ve constructed the roster, one thing stands out — the amount of money they’ve allocated to their bullpen.
Houston’s bullpen has been the difference in their series against the Rangers. Texas’ lineup is superior to the Astros, and their starting pitching is similar, but over the length of a seven game series, Houston’s incredible depth when it comes to their relief pitching has shined through, and it’s no coincidence.
The Astros have placed a premium on their bullpen. On their roster, they currently are paying four relievers at least $8 million. With their closer, Ryan Pressley, making the most at $14 million. The Braves, on the other hand, only have one reliever making north of $6 million this year, and that was their closer Raisel Iglesias.
For whatever reason, perhaps it was the success the Braves had in 2021 with a rag-tag bunch in the bullpen, Alex Anthopoulos has not shown a willingness to spend considerable money on relief arms. I wouldn’t say that’s been why the Braves did not advance past the divisional round. But when looking at the Astros and Phillies, the two teams on track to reach the World Series for the second consecutive year, both clubs have 7-8 relievers that can be plugged into any situation, making life much easier for Rob Thomson and Dusty Baker.
Bullpens typically only get discussed when they blow games. They are the scapegoats for when things go wrong, and they aren’t nearly as valuable in the regular season because the starters are almost always going 5+ innings. But that is not the case come October.
Starting pitchers should almost always have a short leash, and it’s oftentimes the bullpens that cover the bulk of the innings. The Braves couldn’t do that even if they wanted to this year, which is one of the reasons Brian Snitker was so hesitant to pull Bryce Elder at the first sight of trouble in Game 3 against the Phillies, leading to a blowout loss.
Bullpens don’t get much praise. They don’t rack up much WAR during the regular season, and they might not even be that critical to winning the division. But when it comes to making deep runs in October, few things are more game-changing than a bullpen that can shut down an offense for 5-6 innings. It’s one of the many things the Astros have gotten right over this incredible seven year run, and it’s something the Braves should attempt to emulate with their offseason moves.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire