The Braves bullpen has rightfully been the butt of the joke for several years now. They walked a despicable 273 batters last season and finished 10th in the NL in ERA, which was actually their most productive year since 2014. Yeah, it’s been that bad. So finally, after ignoring it in the offseason, Alex Anthopoulos pulled all of the strings to address Atlanta’s primary flaw at this year’s trade deadline, acquiring Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, and Chris Martin.
Of course, the results didn’t pay off immediately. Shane Greene, who allowed four total runs in 38 innings for the Tigers, eclipsed that number in three appearances for the Braves, leading to Mark Melancon being named the closer. Expectedly, Melancon responded by allowing the Marlins to score four runs in his next outing that lasted a third of an inning and very nearly did the same thing a few nights later against the Mets. Meanwhile, Chris Martin wasn’t any better, allowing five earned runs in his first 3.1 innings pitched for the Braves. However, track records rarely lie in baseball, and there should have never been a doubt that these three would eventually create one of the most feared bullpens in the league.
Over the last week, Atlanta’s relief core has come through time-and-time again. Luke Jackson is thriving in a role with less pressure, allowing a single run in August. Anthony Swarzak has been equally as effective, surrendering a run just once in his eight appearances since the trade deadline. But more importantly, the Braves new toys have finally begun to look the part in their roles.
Shane Greene allowed two singles but still struck out the side in a scoreless frame last night. Before that, he had thrown three perfect innings in a row, looking like the All-Star closer that came over from Detroit. Mark Melancon has recorded back-to-back saves while surrendering a single hit. He’s the guy Braves’ fans should be least worried about. The 34-year-old has 11 years of success in this league, and while a few outings haven’t gone his way, Melancon remains one of the toughest relievers in baseball to score on. He has a 7.36 ERA since joining the Braves, but his FIP of 0.90 shows just how unlucky he has been. Things are going to come around for the three-time All-Star. Chris Martin is also beginning to show signs of life. He pitched his third consecutive perfect inning to close out the Fish last night in the ninth.
Come the stretch of the season and into the playoffs, a shutdown bullpen can be an even greater weapon than a stellar rotation. The Braves do not have the latter, so they will be relying on this pen to morph into what it is capable of. Atlanta has a swiss army knife in Sean Newcomb, who has starter’s experience and can pitch multiple innings if need be but can also be used in a set-up role. They can utilize guys who have closed games for them this year – Anthony Swarzak and Luke Jackson – in the middle innings without having to worry about the 7th, 8th, and 9th. Hell, even Josh Tomlin has been effective in long relief, and Jerry Blevins has been a terror for left-handed batters. With the Dodgers and the rest of bullpens in baseball struggling to stay afloat, this is where the Braves biggest advantage lies. Their relief pitching is going to be a tremendous weapon for them heading into and during the playoffs.