For most of the season, the bullpen was the Achilles heel of the Braves. But, as Clint Manry pointed out following Atlanta’s NLDS series victory over the Brewers, Atlanta’s relief core has actually been quite good for a while now. Over the season’s first three months, they posted an ERA near five. But in July, it was down to 3.25, followed by a 3.79-mark in August and an exemplary 2.90 ERA in September. Since the All-Star break, Atlanta’s bullpen has been one of the best units in the majors, and it’s continued that way so far in the playoffs.
Against the Brewers, the Braves relievers held Milwaukee scoreless in the first three games. The Brew Crew finally scored two runs off Atlanta’s bullpen in Game 4, thanks to a two-run homer off of Huascar Ynoa, but that’s all they could muster, as they were held scoreless for the final four innings, leading to a Braves win and a 3-1 series victory.
It’s been much of the same so far for the Dodgers against Atlanta’s bullpen. In Game 1, Max Fried pitched six innings of two-run ball, leaving way for the Braves three best relievers — Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson, and Will Smith, who, up to that point, had yet to allow a run to cross the plate in the postseason. Their dominance continued that night, as they shut down the Dodgers for three innings before Austin Riley walked it off.
Atlanta’s bullpen was asked to do much more in Game 2, but they were nearly flawless once again. Ian Anderson didn’t have his best stuff, and Brian Snitker made the right move by pulling him after just three innings, even if he had only allowed just two runs. Unsung hero, Jesse Chavez, relieved Anderson and quickly worked a perfect fourth. A.J. Minter followed, and even if it wasn’t pretty, pitched a scoreless fifth. More trouble was found in the sixth, but Tyler Matzek was brought in and struck out Albert Pujols to avoid any damage.
The only runs the Dodgers have been able to manufacture off the Braves bullpen over nine innings of work came in the seventh inning, and they could have been easily avoided. A lengthy battle between Matzek and Mookie Betts ended in a leadoff walk. Betts would end up stealing second, but Matzek would get Corey Seager and Trea Turner to strike out. Then… a mess occurred.
Brian Snitker intentionally walked Will Smith, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts countered by pinch-hitting Justin Turner. That’s when Snitker turned to Luke Jackson to close out the frame, who could not do so. He hit Turner on the second pitch of the at-bat and then gave up a two-run single to Chris Taylor. Thankfully, the Braves were able to fight back over the last three innings, but that wouldn’t have been possible if Chris Martin and Will Smith hadn’t done their job and held the Dodgers scoreless in the eighth and ninth.
Coming into the series, Los Angeles had an overwhelming advantage on paper over the Braves in the bullpen department. Dave Roberts has a plethora of arms to turn to in any situation imaginable. It’s almost unfair, but so far in this series, it’s been the Braves rag-tag bunch that’s held up better, which is why they lead two games to none. Atlanta’s relief core now has a minuscule 1.52 ERA in the postseason, easily the best of the playoff teams. If they continue to pitch like this, it’s hard not to imagine them holding up the Commissioner’s Trophy when it’s all said and done.
Thanks for reading about the Braves bullpen’s postseason dominance. If you liked this article, check out Chase’s recent piece on why this year’s 2-0 NLCS lead over the Dodgers feels different than last year’s.