The Braves’ bullpen has rightfully been the scapegoat for the team’s early underachievement. They have a 4.42 ERA on the season – good for 19th in the entire MLB. However, that is substantially better than where they sat a couple of weeks ago when they had about just as many walks as strikeouts. The Braves have relied on some under the radar names – the island of misfit toys I like to call them – and they have made all the difference thus far.
It’s almost comical to look at the way the bullpen has shaped out compared to how it looked to begin the season. The combo-closer situation of Arodys Vizcaino and A.J. Minter has blown up right in the face of the Braves. Vizcaino should have never even been issued a contract in arbitration. He’s had the same injury dating back to last season and is now shut down after he underwent surgery. At the same time, Minter hasn’t been able to handle the pressure of high-leverage situations and is sporting an ERA of nine on the year.
Not to mention, Darren O’Day, the scheduled set-up man this offseason, has yet to throw a pitch and doesn’t appear to be any closer to a return. Jesse Biddle has taken massive steps backward. Chad Sobotka looks like nothing more than a flash in the pan. And Jonny Venters has been abysmal when on the mound and injured the rest of the time.
Coming into the season, that’s arguably the top six arms the Braves thought they had, and they have provided nothing positive for the club. It’s almost a revelation the bullpen has not been worse, and they can thank the island of misfit toys for that.
Who is on the island of misfit toys?
Their fearless leader – Luke Jackson – The hysterical part about this is if Darren O’Day were healthy Jackson might have not even made the Opening Day roster. Now, he’s indisputably the closer – what a peculiar time in Braves’ history, but he’s earned every bit of it.
Since being blasted for four runs on Opening Day by the Phillies, Jackson has settled down and not allowed a run in 14 consecutive appearances. During that time, he’s pitched in 15 innings, only walked 4 batters and has struck out 19. His mid-90s fastball with a hard biting slider combination is working to perfection. It’s unknown if this production is sustainable, but Snitker should be riding this train as much as he can while it’s hot.
Jackson’s right hand – Jacob Webb – The rookie has been a name we’ve had our eyes on for a while in AAA, as he profiled as a major league reliever. The 25-year old brings gas from the right side and has done a fantastic job of avoiding walks in his ten appearances this season. Until last night, nobody had scored off Webb in 6.9 innings. The Dodgers were able to bring two across the plate, but we will toss that up to the Braves’ forgetting how to play baseball when they go to LA.
A betrayed warrior – Dan Winkler – It’s laughable that Winkler didn’t make the Opening Day roster. He had his fair share of ups and downs in 2018, as did the rest of the bullpen, but he still finished the year with a 4-0 record. And most notably, didn’t load up the bases with walks. How was that not good enough to join this bunch? Anyways, the Braves quickly called him up, and he’s been a trustworthy option, allowing two earned runs in 9.2 innings of relief.
A beaten drum – Josh Tomlin – Tomlin was one of those acquisitions that made Braves’ fans sigh. Alex Anthopoulos had all offseason and a supposed increased payroll to add to the bullpen, and the only thing he does is sign Josh Tomlin? The longtime Cleveland Indian has never recorded an ERA south of three and has a career ERA of 4.73. It may not have been sexy, but it’s been working in 2019. Tomlin is one of the Braves most used relievers, appearing in 12 games and tossing 18.2 innings. His ERA is currently 2.89.