I have said it several times over the last couple of weeks, I am giddy to watch the Braves bullpen this upcoming season. It is absolutely loaded at the top. If Atlanta can get a lead past the fifth inning, they aren’t going to lose many games, but perhaps the most impressive aspect about the unit is the depth.
Going into the season, Kirby Yates and Jay Jackson will start on the 60-day IL, and Luke Jackson could be joining them before long. The latter Jackson has yet to pitch this spring because of forearm tightness, and it doesn’t look like he’ll be ready to start the season. For most clubs, and even the Braves in previous years, that might be a cause for concern, but not for this team.
Luke Jackson, who was arguably the best relief arm for Atlanta last season, is nothing more than a middle reliever on this year’s squad. Jay Jackson falls in the same boat, and the Braves knew coming into the season that Yates wouldn’t be available until at least August.
It was the additions of Kenley Jansen and Collin McHugh, arguably the two best relief arms on the open market, that put this group over the top. With those two in the fold, we could see the Braves turn to high-powered arms like A.J. Minter and Tyler Matzek as early as the fifth inning. In the playoffs, that might be normal, but few managers have that type of luxury during the regular season. Brian Snitker is a lucky man; he undoubtedly has the best bullpen on paper coming into the season, and Jeff Francoeur agrees.
Bullpens are funny, because oftentimes, they are the difference in the manager looking like a genius or a jackass. For much of last season, Snitker received hell from the fans because no matter who he turned to late in games, they couldn’t get it done. Of course, that changed down the stretch and into the postseason, and all of a sudden, Snitker was viewed as one of the best managers in the game.
Things should be much easier for Snit this time around. The Braves have several guys on the roster that are used closing games, and he should have plenty enough arms to give everyone ample rest. In today’s game, relievers are relied on even more so than starters. The Braves saw just how impactful a shutdown bullpen can be during last year’s playoff run, so Anthopoulos did everything in his power to ensure they have one for the entire season this time around.
Photo: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire
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