Yesterday’s finish might have been the wildest of the MLB’s aging season. Trailing 7-1 in the top of the eighth, the Red Sox reminded the Braves why they should never feel comfortable, especially against a powerful offense. Six Boston players crossed the plate to tie the game, only to have Freddie Freeman give the Braves the lead again in the bottom half of the inning. Unfortunately, Boston still had one more at-bat. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Brandon Phillips, in his first game MLB game this year, launched a two-run bomb to give the bad guys a 9-8 win.
It was one of the most frustrating and entertaining games of the season, that saw the Braves’ “best” bullpen arms falter. Daniel Winkler was lit up to the tune of four runs without recording a single out. One of Atlanta’s shining stars since being acquired, Jonny Venters allowed two runs in a third of an inning. And Atlanta’s closer, continued his enigmatic ways, giving up the final two runs in the bottom of the ninth. This has been an Achilles’ heel for Atlanta all season, and with October approaching, Brian Snitker is scrambling for a reliable lineup to turn to.
The postseason is a totally different ball game. Starters, who are pitching well, might leave after the fourth inning, giving way to the studs coming out of the bullpen. A deep bullpen is generally a requirement to win a World Series. The Braves have not had that luxury all season. However, acquisitions over the last couple of months have put this group in a much better position than what they showed yesterday afternoon.
Prior to this series with the Red Sox, the bullpen had been on fire. Take Chad Sobotka out of the equation, who has only appeared in six games all season, the pen’s ERA was hovering around 1.00 since mid-August. The additions of Brad Brach (0.57 ERA in 15.2 innings pitched since joining Atlanta) and Jonny Venters (1.35 ERA in 13.1 innings pitched) have been critical in the Braves ascendence to first place. Not to mention, Atlanta might have some familiar faces on the horizon.
Closer, Arodys Vizcaino made his first rehab start in AAA Gwinnett on Sunday. He threw one scoreless inning and was on the mound again Tuesday for the Stripers in a scoreless effort. Jose Ramirez is another live arm the Braves might be adding for the playoff push. Like Vizcaino, he made his first rehab appearance on Sunday and followed it with another one on Tuesday, resulting in two scoreless innings with three strikeouts. Providing there are no setbacks, both of these players should be in Atlanta sooner rather than later.
Overreactions to one series are common, but the reality is the Braves’ bullpen is going to be much better down the stretch. Now, the depth must be improved for them to make a serious postseason run, which is where the young guns come in.
Atlanta got their first taste of Kyle Wright against Boston. It was not the most stressful situation, with the Braves trailing 5-1 late in the game. Nonetheless, Wright looked spectacular, flashing a mid to high-90s fastball and a plethora of filthy off-speed pitches. Most importantly he showcased control and attacked batters. There was no fear, even when facing the best offense in baseball. Something we have seen out of a few other Braves’ rookies as well.
Touki Toussaint made his second major league start in game one of the series with the Red Sox. It started about as well as it could have, as he dealt four innings of no-hit baseball. A hiccup in the fifth inning led to three runs, but the 22-year old was again awfully impressive.
In the same game, Bryse Wilson pitched in relief, which did not go as smoothly as his major league debut. The control was not there, allowing three walks and three earned runs in just an inning of work. At merely twenty years of age and two years removed from high school baseball, there is plenty of room for optimism. The Braves will give him a few for more chances to prove his worth before October, but the stage might prove to be a little too much for him at this point in his career.
With that being said, Wright and Touissant look like two arms that will be monumental down the stretch. Most major leaguers have never even heard of these guys, let alone faced them in the batter’s box. That is a clear advantage for two pitchers that do not need one to be successful. Add them to the mix of Biddle, Venters, Brach, Winkler, Minter and eventually Vizcaino, and you have a pen loaded with live arms. It may be asking a lot to expect much out of two rookies with three combined major league appearances, but these guys are skilled enough to give the Atlanta bullpen the depth it needs to be successful in a potential playoff series.