Not much has gone right for the Braves in 2021, but the young arms have provided some excitement. Huascar Ynoa, Kyle Muller, Tucker Davidson, and now Touki Toussaint have delivered several very promising outings, and there’s reason to believe all of them will contribute in the starting rotation for years to come. However, as far as this season is concerned, that isn’t what the Braves need.
As a whole, starting pitch has been a strength for Atlanta this season. Charlie Morton is 6-1 with a 2.86 ERA in his last 11 starts. Max Fried is 7-4 with a 3.15 ERA since an IL stint in late April. Ian Anderson has been steady all year in his first full season of major league ball. Even Drew Smyly is starting to look like a guy well worth the $11 million the Braves paid him this offseason. This is one of the most well-rounded rotations in the league, and they don’t need four more arms to complete it. Where they could use them, though, is in the bullpen.
I talked about it months ago, but as good as Ynoa has been as a starter this season, he might be more valuable out of the bullpen. He’s mostly a two-pitch pitcher; his high-90s fastball and wicked slider could dominate in relief, and the Braves could use him in several different ways. Ynoa could pitch in high leverage situations while also serving as an option that could pitch multiple innings at a time. This might get him back to the majors faster as well. Whenever Ynoa is cleared to pitch in a game again, it’s going to take him a few weeks to stretch out. By the time he’s ready to pitch 5+ innings, the Braves might be out of the race.
I think there’s a good chance Ynoa becomes a critical piece to Atlanta’s bullpen down the stretch, but so could some of these other guys. Muller has put together a few good starts in the majors and has been especially effective early in games, and Toussaint is another high-powered option that could be used as a reliever. Unfortunately, Tucker Davidson is on the 60-day IL, but he might also be a candidate for the bullpen if he returns this season.
If the Braves are serious about competing, they have to focus on their bullpen, but it is fixable. Relievers are relatively easy to acquire at the trade deadline; combine that with one or two of these young arms, and Atlanta’s issues at the end of games may turn into a thing of the past.
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