Maybe the end of Game of Thrones has me in my feelings, but the way the Braves bullpen has worked reminds me a lot of the show. The main characters at the beginning were quickly cast aside, and since it’s been a battle, one in which everyone has had their opportunity to claim their right to the throne that is the Braves’ closer role.
We will combine Arodys Vizcaino and A.J. Minter and call them Ned Stark. Like most Game of Thrones fans believed Ned Stark would be an integral piece to the show, the Braves front office thought Minter and Vizcaino would hold down the late innings for the entire season. By May, Viz was pronounced out for the season, and Minter was sent to find himself in AAA, leaving Alex Anthopoulos scratching his head.
After a couple of weeks of handing the ball to whoever had the hot hand, Atlanta eventually settled on Luke Jackson as their interim closer. Jackson rose from the ashes, a man who was 25th or 26th on the Braves roster to begin the season, and quickly became the club’s best reliever. For that reason, he is Daenerys Targaryen, and his slider can be Drogan. Jackson, like Daenerys, also falsely believes this is his thrown to keep.
While the neighborhood sliderman has been unbelievable so far, proving he is a high-quality reliever that belongs in the majors, he is no closer. The electric stuff that makes people feel uncomfortable in the batter’s box is not there. Jackson is a middle reliever, who could serve as a set-up guy at times. He will thrive in that role, but he is not and never will be a valid closing option.
So who could that be?
At this point, only one arm makes sense. The rightful heir to the closer’s role is Sean Newcomb (Jon Snow). Whatever being sent down to AAA did to his mentality, the Braves have to be enjoying it.
After back-to-back outings without issuing a free pass, Newcomb would head back to Atlanta but not as a starter. They placed the southpaw in the bullpen, hoping the experience might pay the same dividends as it did with Max Fried. So far, that seems to do the trick with the Braves’ young lefties. Newcomb has appeared seven times out of the bullpen and has yet to allow a run or a walk He’s been flawless in his new role, and on Monday, recorded his first career save.
After Jackson faltered in his last save opportunity, Newk should receive the next chance at shutting the door. If he’s successful a few more times; he will be the official interim closer for the Atlanta Braves. Who would have said that at the beginning of the year? Although, you could say the same thing about Luke Jackson. But as all Game of Thrones fans know by now, Jon Snow – even though he is the rightful heir to the throne – does not end up King.
That would be Bran the Broken. The boy who brought very little to the show over eight seasons but somehow earned the right to be named the king at the end. If you’re not familiar with the show, basically Bran came out of nowhere to be crowned leader of the six kingdoms (unless you read the spoilers). That’s why I believe this story of the Braves’ bullpen still has a lot left to be written.
If I had to put my fingernail on who will be Bran (AKA the Braves closer) when the season ends; I would say Craig Kimbrel. The star relief man that remains unsigned is going to join a team in June and may not pitch until July. Essentially, he will do absolutely nothing for the first four months of the season, come back and be the closer because he’s that damn good. That’s similar to Bran’s storyline in the show – only most fans genuinely respect Kimbrel’s expertise.
It may not be Kimbrel, but I’m confident Alex Anthopoulos’ number one goal is finding a clear-cut closer for this team. Whether it is through the free agent market or trade, I don’t think the 9th inning guy at the end of the season is on the roster yet. Newcomb is an intriguing closing option for now but probably fits best as a multi-inning setup man. Bringing in a documented shutdown arm to put after Newk would take an enormous amount of pressure off the entire bullpen.