The Braves bullpen is a joke that is no longer funny. It has been the weakest link on this team for years now – and much of the reason for that has been self-inflicted. Alex Anthopoulos neglected to add to the pen this past offseason, despite an uninspiring 2018, leading to Luke Jackson assuming the closer’s role.
The sliderman performed to the best of his abilities, but he was always trying to fill shoes far too large. The same can be said for relievers like Anthony Swarzak and Jacob Webb, who were serving in set-up roles with little experience in high-leverage situations. So finally, Anthopoulos caved and addressed the situation that probably should have been handled in the offseason. He went out and acquired three late-inning relief options, turning this unit, on paper, into one of the best in baseball.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out like that in a small sample size.
Mark Melancon and Chris Martin have effectively pitched a scoreless frame each since coming to Atlanta. But Shane Greene – the prized possession of the trade deadline – has been asked to close two games and failed both times.
The first came on Saturday night against the Reds. He loaded up the bases and then allowed the game-tying hit before finally getting out of the ninth inning. Luckily, Acuña was able to pick him up with a walk-off single in the tenth, but Greene would not be so fortunate the very next day. After forcing a double play to clear the bases, two singles and a home run gave the Reds a three-run lead in the tenth inning – one the Braves could not overcome.
If you’re keeping track at home, Greene has allowed four earned runs and seven hits in two innings in Atlanta. For perspective, the former Tigers closer had only allowed five earned runs in 38 innings with Detroit. He also was carrying a WHIP below 0.900, which has already spiked over 1.000 after just two appearances for the Braves.
So is Atlanta’s bullpen cursed, or is there reason to believe Shane Greene isn’t the answer after all?
I talked about it many times before the Braves traded for Greene – several signs suggested that his production was unsustainable. While his ERA was only a hair north of one, a FIP of 3.68 screamed regression was around the corner, and his track record is shaky at best. Just last year, he recorded a 5.12 ERA in 66 appearances for the Tigers, which came after a season where he posted a 2.66 ERA in 71 appearances.
Greene is far from Craig Kimbrel in his prime or Felip Vazquez of the Pirates. He doesn’t have explosive stuff or astronomical strikeout numbers. However, he is a high-quality reliever that is much better than what he has shown in his two appearances with the Braves. His control is his calling card, and so far it has not been what it was in Detroit, which is understandable given his new situation.
Greene grew up in Florida, and like so many kids from the south, was a lifelong Braves fans. He has experience in the majors, but its different pitching for a team with World Series expectations. The pressure is on, and in Greene’s first couple of outings, you can tell he’s felt some of that weight on his shoulders, overthrowing a bit and missing too often over the middle of the plate.
If this continues, Brian Snitker may reconsider his options a few weeks down the road. Positively, at least he has other new promising arms to choose from. But right now, Greene deserves the opportunity to pitch in the ninth inning, and I fully expect him to shrug off the last two nights and become the leader of the Braves bullpen.