In case you were busy with work or anything else you may have had going on this afternoon during Atlanta’s day game against Washington, I’ll quickly recap the bottom halves of the final innings for you.
- Anthony Swarzak gave up a solo home run to Matt Adams in the eighth inning on an 0-2 count with two outs on the board. Braves lead, 4-2.
- Luke Jackson entered the game in the ninth inning with the lead still at two runs. He gives up two singles to lead off the inning. Luke Jackson’s day is over.
- Sean Newcomb entered the game with two runners on and nobody out. He walks Juan Soto on four pitches. He does not throw a pitch in the strike zone until the third pitch of his at-bat against Kurt Suzuki, who smacks it into left field to tie the game at four.
- Newcomb gets a double play and a strikeout to escape into extra innings.
- Josh Tomlin enters the game with a one-run lead in the tenth inning. He gives up a single and a walk after getting an out to start the inning. The winning run is in scoring position with Adam Eaton and Anthony Rendon still set to come to the plate. Fortunately, Tomlin gets them both out and the Braves win the series in Washington.
Personally, just thinking about that series of events made me sweat. Just imagine what it was like for fans who were actually watching it. It was a terrifying moment and unfortunately, it’s been a moment that we’ve seen way too many times this season. While the Braves bullpen has improved since the beginning of the season, it was still a patchwork bullpen at best. Luke Jackson has made plenty of improvement since last season, but he’s also made it clear with his performance that he probably should not be closing games. He’s still a solid arm coming out of the bullpen, but not the type of pitcher who you want handling the end of the game.
The end of the game shouldn’t be a nervous time if you’re a team in the position that the Braves are in. You should feel confident in your chances to close out a victory, instead of being nervous that you could possibly blow an 11-1 lead with three innings left to throw. If that sounds ludicrous, then keep in mind that the Braves gave up seven runs in innings seven-through-nine just last night.
Plain and simple, that type of uncertainty at the end of the game for a Braves team that’s in firm contention to win the division and hopefully make a playoff run is unacceptable to have. Alex Anthopolous and the Braves absolutely had to shore up the bullpen and with a trio of cheap deals for relievers with high-leverage experience, they did just that at the trade deadline.
Mark Melancon, Chris Martin and Shane Greene are now Braves. Before we even start analyzing the moves, it’s already safe to say that high-leverage situations for this team are going to take on a very different look and feel from this point forward. Mainly, the anxiety levels for this fanbase are probably going to slide down considerably after this series of deadline deals.
You may as well pencil in Shane Greene as the new closer for the Braves. Greene will be entering the bullpen with easily the lowest ERA among that crew (1.17) and a 3.70 FIP. His peripheral stats also place him at the top of this bullpen. None of his numbers really jump out and say “shutdown closer” like anybody who was elite in that role, but he can get the job done and do so on a consistent basis.
Now, had the Braves only gotten Shane Greene at the deadline then this probably would have been disappointing and underwhelming. Instead, this is one time where quantity brings quality. Chris Martin has spent two seasons as a very solid relief option in one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in baseball and he would fit right in as another high-leverage reliever in a set-up role behind Greene. While Mark Melancon’s best days are clearly behind him and he’s on a bit of an expensive contract, he can still get the job done and should help shore up the bullpen from a position of depth and a position of reliability.
By adding these three relievers, it allows the Braves to now have solid depth across the bullpen instead of having a few obvious and glaring holes in that department. Luke Jackson has performed admirably in the role that he earned this season, but he can now flourish in his new role in this bullpen. The pressure won’t be on him to finish games off and now he can take his improvement and utilize it in lower-leverage moments, which will make the entire bullpen better. The same goes for guys like Josh Tomlin, Sean Newcomb, Anthony Swarzak and the rest of the pen. This is no longer a patchwork bullpen — this crew now has the depth to fight and keep the Braves in the game.
The Braves were also able to make these deals without giving up too much in terms of cost. Joey Wentz, Travis Demeritte, Tristan Beck, Dan Winkler and Kolby Allard all have the potential to turn into “something” at some point in their careers. It was just obvious that all of those guys probably weren’t going to do so in the Braves organization and now they will have a chance to do so far away from the Braves. Additionally, this is why the Braves had a leg up on their competition in the market. Giving up Allard for Martin may have been a steep cost for most teams but for the Braves, it was a drop in their prospect bucket. We just saw a prime example of why building up prospect capital and seizing on opportunities to use those prospects in deals is so important.
This was very much a “budget” trade deadline for the Braves, as they didn’t go out and get a marquee name on the market and they didn’t completely empty their farm system either. Instead, they were able to use their farm system to plug what had been a major hole for them for far too long. I’d anticipate that the arrival of these three relievers will signal a significant cut in late-game anxiety for the Braves and us fans. It’ll also fire up the clubhouse and fanbase as well, since the front office has done what they could to invest in strengthening the team’s weakness.
Plain and simple, the Braves did what they needed to do to shore up for the stretch run. They’ve done well to beat back their divisional competition over recent weeks. Now, they appear ready to make a serious run at this thing. In the words of a legendary race car driver from Spain, “Now, we can fight.”